What is the Sargasso Sea?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

The Sargasso Sea is a section of the North Atlantic ocean which is characterized by being unusually flat and still, thanks to some tricks of the ocean currents in the region. This section of the Atlantic has become rather famous, and it is surrounded with mysterious stories and speculation. The truth behind the Sargasso Sea is almost as interesting as all of the stories about it, as this region, which should by all rights be a sort of desert in the ocean, is actually teeming with life.

The Sargasso Sea is named for its copious amounts of Sargassum seaweed.
The Sargasso Sea is named for its copious amounts of Sargassum seaweed.

This geographical feature is named for the copious amounts of Sargassum seaweed which float on its surface. This seaweed is also known as gulfweed. The Sargasso Sea is bordered by the Gulf Stream current, which circles the region along with several other currents, creating an area of strange stillness in the middle of the Atlantic.

The Sargasso Sea plays a role in the reproductive cycle of eels.
The Sargasso Sea plays a role in the reproductive cycle of eels.

One of the biggest myths about the Sargasso Sea is that the seaweed entangles ships, and it is certainly true that a number of derelict ships have been found floating in this area. However, it's not the seaweed that traps them, it's the lack of wind. This sea is in one of the areas of the ocean known as the doldrums, where a relative lack of wind can trap a sailing ship. The Sargasso is also near the Bermuda Triangle, a notorious region of the Atlantic, and this has perhaps enhanced the mystique of the area.

Christopher Columbus may have been the first explorer to have interacted with the Sargasso Sea.
Christopher Columbus may have been the first explorer to have interacted with the Sargasso Sea.

Given that the Sargasso Sea is relatively flat and still, with the ocean floor extremely far below, scientists expected it to be devoid of life. The Sargassum is an obvious contradiction to this theory, and scientific surveys in the area have actually revealed incredibly diverse life forms on the microscopic level. This confused scientists until they realized that deeper ocean currents below the region were supplying it with nutrients, making it a rich and abundant part of the ocean.

The Sargasso Sea also plays a notable role in the reproductive cycle of eels. North American and European eels return to there to lay eggs, with the elvers or young eels slowly working their way from the Sargasso Sea back to the homes of their parents in a truly remarkable journey.

The North Atlantic ocean contains the Sargasso Sea.
The North Atlantic ocean contains the Sargasso Sea.
Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a wiseGEEK researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

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