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Ocean Gyres - Windows to the Universe

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This image shows the five major ocean gyres. It shows that gyres rotate in a clockwise direction in the Northern hemisphere and a counter-clockwise direction in the Southern hemisphere. The black square shows the approximate location of the Great Pacific Garbage Patch and the red circle shows the position of the Beaufort gyre in the Arctic Ocean.
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Windows Original (Original map is from Wikipedia Commons)

Ocean Gyres

Have you ever played with a toy called a gyroscope? It spins around and around. Scientists use the similar word gyre to explain something that moves in a circle. There are gyres in the ocean that are huge swirling bodies of water. They can take up a whole ocean. In fact, the biggest ocean gyres are named for the oceans they are found in: North Atlantic, South Atlantic, North Pacific, South Pacific and Indian Ocean gyres. A simple drawing of those can be seen on this page.

One of the biggest ocean gyres, the North Pacific gyre, is home to an area called the Great Pacific Garbage Patch. This area contains a lot of litter! It covers an area about twice the size of Texas and contains about 3 million tons of plastic litter.

There are smaller gyres in the ocean too. One of the smaller gyres is called the Beaufort gyre and it is in the Arctic Ocean. Scientists have been studying the Beaufort gyre a lot recently because it could actually impact the climate (long-term weather patterns) in North American and Western Europe.

Ocean gyres are currents on the top of the ocean that are driven by the winds of the Earth. Ocean gyres in the Northern hemisphere rotate clockwise and gyres in the Southern hemisphere rotate counter-clockwise.

Last modified January 26, 2011 by Jennifer Bergman.

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