Major Currents

  • Large surface currents are mainly driven by winds that blow year round. The winds at the equator are called the northeast and southeast trade winds. At the mid-latitudes, the winds are called the westerlies, and at the highest latitudes, the winds are called the polar easterlies. These winds blow in one direction all year.

    Two of the largest currents are the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and the Kuroshio Current. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current, sometimes called the West Wind Drift, circles eastward around Antarctica. The Kuroshio Current, which is located just off Japan’s coast, travels up to 75 miles a day at a speed of up to 3 miles per hour.

    The Gulf Stream is a current with a strong influence on the East Coast of the United States. Actually, the Gulf Stream is part of a larger current system, which includes the North Atlantic Current, the Canary Current and the North Equatorial Current. From the Yucatan Peninsula in Mexico, the Gulf Stream flows north through the Straits of Florida and along Florida’s East Coast. When it reaches North Carolina, around Cape Hatteras, it begins to drift off into the North Atlantic towards the Grand Banks near Newfoundland. The Gulf Stream usually travels at a speed of 3 or 4 knots.


A map of the different currents across the world.

Click on the image to view it larger from its source.