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The Sargasso Sea

The Sargasso Sea image
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Only a bit of floating seaweed that the restless surf washed upon tbe beach, and yet the mere sight of it carried my thoughts back to one of the most important events in the history of the world, for its far away anoestors well nigh prevented the discovery of 'America. Yon know the story - how the ignorant sailors of Colnmbus beoame alarmed and alinost mntinied when their ships ëailed intowhat appeared tobe a perfect network of impenetrable weeds. They believed that the thickening sea was a warning of Providence to turn back from their andacions undertaking, and it required all the firmness and authority of Columbus to bring them back to dnty and obedience. That wonderfnl mass of seaweeds was something new and' mysterions and thereforO to be feared. Later on, when the Spaniards became familiar with its constant presence in that triangular space midwayin the Atlantic between the Azores, the Canaries and the Cape de Verde islands, they called it a "marine meadow." The sailors, however, christened it the Sargasso sea, from the Spanish word sargazo, which means seaweed. Still, though satisfied that it was not of supernatural origin, they cculd not account for its existen ce. Science, however, long ago solved the mystery, not only of this, bnt of other Sargasso seas. For there are several others, and they are always found, each in almost the same spot. The diurnal motion of the earth, the never ceasing rush of the tides and the steadyforce of the winds créate, tindei the tropics, a surface current in the seas, which advances, from east to west, at the rate of about ten marine miles an Keur. This cnrrent, which. is called the equatorial cnrrent, or current of rotation, is only superficial, and extends in one vast mobile sheet, which moves between the tropics It forms the genial waters of the Caribbean sea and feeds the gulf stream. At Cape San Roque it divides, one part flowing south to rueet and be transforrned into a submarino current by the nortb polar current ; on the other si de it bathes the shores of Guiana and Brazil. And then there is the "gulf stream of the east, " which issues from the bay of Bengal. lts waters, like those of our own gulf stream, may be distinguished from tbe bordering waters of the great ocean by their indigo tint. The Japanese cali it the black river. Leaviug the bay of Bengal, this great warm current passes through the strait of Malacca, sweeps the coast of Asia, and then, north of the Philipplne islands, rushes out into the ocean, de.scribing the are of a great circle as far as the Aleutian islands. Like the gulf stream of the Atlantic, it nioderates the rigor of tbe climates that it traverses. The analogy between these two great oceanic arteries is wonderful, but it is enough for our present purpose to know thaf to their circuí tons curren ts the Sargasso seas owe their existence. How? Well, this is easily explained. Drop some pieces of light rnoss or bits of cork or wood into a tub of water : then with your hand near its edge give the water a circular motion. In a moment you will see that all the floating substances will have collected in the center. Continue the circular motion, and at the same time blow sharply against the floating objects, and they will change their position, but will not leave the vicinity of the center so long as the rotary motion of the water continúes. Observe, too, that this center is comparatively calm. This is the explanation of the Sargasso seas. In the center of the several circuits of the great oceanic arteries vast basins of comparatively still water are formed. The cnrrents by which they are surrounded constantly throw toward the center all floating substances, especially marine plants, and these, owing to the quiet waters, multiply with great rapidity, those that have lived their appointed time sinking out of sight, while new ones take their place. Even the action of the winds, as intimated above, serves only to shift this position slightly. The "marine meadow" with which we are most familiar, that of the midAtlantie, spreads over an extent of surface fivo or six times as large as the territory occupied by France. What a wonderful meadow on land that would be for cattle ! And yet it is scarcely less so where it is for the creatures of the sea. This sargassum, or gulf weed, ie rather odd looking. lts frond is very long and furnished with distinct, stalked, nervine leaves aüd berrylike air vessels on simple axillary stalks. It is found floating or cast on the shores, but its true home is at the bottom of the sea, whence, becoming detached, it rises to the surface, buoyed upby itscurious little air vessels. - The sargassum hardly looks "good enough to eat," but that it is both palatable and nutritions is abundantly proved by the many dishes that are preüared from it. not onlv in China, but in


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