Moskstraumen

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Location of the Moskstraum.
The Moskstraum.

The Moskstraumen or Moskenstraumen is a system of tidal eddies and whirlpools, one of the strongest in the world,[1] that forms at the Lofoten archipelago, Norway, in the Norwegian Sea. It is located between the Lofoten Point (Norwegian: Lofotodden) of Moskenesøya (Moskenes municipality) and Værøy, at the small island of Mosken.[2][3] Moskstraumen is unusual in that it occurs in the open sea whereas most other whirlpools are observed in confined straits or rivers. It originates from a combination of several factors, the dominant being the strong semi-diurnal tides and peculiar shape of the seabed, with a shallow ridge between the Moskenesøya and Værøy islands which amplifies and whirls the tidal currents.

The Moskstraumen has been featured in many historical accounts, generally exaggerated. It is also popularly known as maelstrom – a Nordic word for a strong whirlpool which originates from the Dutch combination of malen (to grind) and stroom (stream). This term was introduced into the English language by Edgar Allan Poe in 1841, through his short story "A Descent into the Maelström". Poe provides an alternate name for the whirlpool with the line: “We Norwegians call it the Moskoestrom, from the island of Moskoe in the midway.” [4]

Description and mechanism[edit]

The Moskstraumen is located between the Lofoten Point of Moskenesøya (Moskenes municipality) and Værøy, at the small island of Mosken. It involves strong tidal currents flowing through the shallows between these islands and the Atlantic Ocean and the deep Vestfjorden, creating eddies and whirlpools, the largest one having a diameter of some 40–50 meters (130–160 ft) and inducing surface water ripples up to 1 meter (3 ft 3 in) in amplitude.[5]

The currents are about 8 kilometers (5.0 mi) wide[2] and suck in various small microorganisms, thereby attracting fish and fishing boats, which could be in danger even in modern times.[6][not in citation given] The flow currents are strongest around July–August. They can be clearly seen from a plane or the nearby Lofotodden Hill (601 m above sea level) on Moskenesøya.[7] There are regular tourist boat trips between Moskenesøya and Værøy.[8]

The Moskstraumen is created as a result of a combination of several factors, including tides, strong local winds, position of the Lofoten and the underwater topography; unlike most other major maelstroms, such as Saltstraumen, Gulf of Corryvreckan, Naruto whirlpools, Old Sow whirlpool and Skookumchuck Narrows, it is located in the open sea rather than in a strait or channel. Tides have an amplitude of about 4 meters (13 ft)[9] and are semi-diurnal at Lofoten, that is they rise twice a day; they are the major contribution to the Moskstraumen. Tides are combined with the northerly Norwegian Sea currents and with storm-induced flow to result in a significant stream, with a reported speed varying between the sources from about 11 to 20 kilometres per hour (6.8 to 12.4 mph) and above.[2][5] This flow occurs at the significant depths of about 500 meters (1,600 ft). It then meets a ridge of only about 20 meters (66 ft)[10] deep (40–60 m by other sources[9]) at the chain of Moskenesøya, Mosken and Værøy islands that causes an upward movement and eddies around the island edges.[6]

In literature[edit]

The maelstrom off Norway, as illustrated by Olaus Magnus on the Carta Marina, 1539.
Illustration for Edgar Allan Poe's story "Descent into the Maelstrom" by Harry Clarke (1889–1931), published in 1919.

The Moskstraumen was described in the 13th century in the Old Norse poems Edda and remained an attractive subject for painters and writers, including Edgar Allan Poe, Walter Moers and Jules Verne.[3] The Swedish bishop Olaus Magnus included the Moskstraumen into his detailed report on the Nordic countries and their map, Carta Marina (1539). He attributed the whirlpool to divine forces and mentioned that it was much stronger than the previously known Sicilian whirlpool Charybdis. Most other writers of the time believed that the Moskstraumen played important role in the ocean circulation, but, given a large amount of tales and lack of scientific observations, grossly overestimated the size and power of the phenomenon.[5] The Moskstraum, referred to simply as the Maelstrom, was the inspiration for Edgar Allan Poe's short story "A Descent into the Maelström" (1841), which brought the term maelstrom, meaning strong whirlpool, into the English language. The term originates from the combination of Dutch words malen (to grind) and stroom (stream).[11] The Moskstraumen also features in the climax of Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea[1] and is mentioned by Captain Ahab in Herman Melville's Moby-Dick.[12] A likely source of information on Moskstraumen for those writers was a fictional description of the Moskstraumen by Jonas Danilssønn Ramus from 1715 which was translated into English and partly included into the 1823 edition of Encyclopædia Britannica.[5] Poe quoted Jonas Ramus and Encyclopaedia Britannica in his tale.[4]

One of the first scientific descriptions of the Moskstraumen was presented by the Norwegian priest and poet Petter Dass in his poem "The Trumpet of Nordland" which included a versified topographical description of northern Norway. There he clearly related the whirlpool with tides by noting that it was the strongest at full and new Moon and the weakest at half-Moon. He also noted that since the large fjords of the Moskenesøya had to be filled and emptied within 6 hours, the related water flow should create strong currents. Dass' novel was however not translated into English and remained unknown in Europe. The relation of the Moskstraumen with the tides was further mentioned by A. Schelderup in an article which was likely written in the 1750s and published in 1824.[5][13]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Craig Glenday (Ed.) Guinness World Records 2006, ISBN 1-904994-02-4 p. 76
  2. ^ a b c Maelstrom, Encyclopædia Britannica on-line
  3. ^ a b The Lofoten Maelstrom, University of Oslo, includes animation of the tidal current
  4. ^ a b Edgar Allan Poe, "A Descent into the Maelström", Graham's Magazine, 1841. Retrieved 11/17/2010.
  5. ^ a b c d e B. Gjevik, H. Moe and A. Ommundsen (1997). "Sources of the Maelstrom". Nature 388 (6645): 837–838. doi:10.1038/42159.  Strong topographic enhancement of tidal currents: tales of the Maelstrom (extended version)
  6. ^ a b Tom Kopel Ebb and Flow: Tides and Life on Our Once and Future Planet, Dundurn Press, 2007 ISBN 1-55002-726-3, pp. 78–79
  7. ^ Jules Brown The Rough Guide to Barcelona, Rough Guides, 2004 ISBN 1-84353-218-2, p. 374
  8. ^ Maelstrom and coastal caves
  9. ^ a b History of Flakstad & Moskenes, Lofoten Islands
  10. ^ Tom Garrison Essentials of Oceanography, Cengage Learning, 2008, ISBN 0-495-55531-2 p. 227
  11. ^ The Merriam-Webster new book of word histories, 1991, ISBN 0-87779-603-3 p. 300
  12. ^ Herman Melville Moby-Dick Chapter 36, wikisource.
  13. ^ A. Schelderup, Kongelige norske Videnskabersselskabs Skrifter, Trondheim, Norway, 2, 1, 78–85 (1824)

External links[edit]

Coordinates: 67°48′N 12°50′E / 67.800°N 12.833°E / 67.800; 12.833