The Sargasso Sea is a region in the gyre in the middle of the North Atlantic Ocean. It is bounded on the west by the Gulf Stream; on the north, by the North Atlantic Current; on the east, by the Canary Current; and on the south, by the North Atlantic Equatorial Current. This system of ocean currents forms the North Atlantic Gyre. All the currents deposit the marine plants and refuse they carry into this sea.
The Sargasso Sea is 1,100 km wide and 3,200 km long (700 statute miles wide and 2,000 statute miles long). It stretches from roughly 70 degrees west to 40 degrees west, and from 20 degrees north to 35 degrees north. Bermuda is near the western fringes of the sea. The ocean water in the Sargasso Sea is distinctive for its deep blue color and exceptional clarity, with underwater visibility of up to 200 feet (61 m).
According to the Muslim cartographer Muhammad al-Idrisi the Mughamarin (also translated as "the adventurers") sent by Ali ibn Yusuf, led by his admiral Ahmad ibn Umar, better known under the name of Raqsh al-Auzz reached the Sargasso Sea, a part of the ocean covered by seaweed, which is very close to Bermuda.
The naming of the Sargasso Sea after the Sargassum seaweed traces back to the early 15th century Portuguese exploration of the Azore Islands where the seaweed was often present in the waters around the islands. The Sargasso Sea was first crossed by the expedition of Christopher Columbus in 1492, who was amazed by the masses of seaweed he encountered. However, the sea may have been known to earlier mariners, as a poem by the late 4th century AD author, Rufus Festus Avienus, describes a portion of the Atlantic as being covered with seaweed, citing a now-lost account by the 5th-century BC Carthaginian explorer Himilco the Navigator.
The Sargasso Sea is home to seaweed of the genus Sargassum, which floats en masse on the surface there. The sargassum is not a threat to shipping, and historic incidents of sailing ships being trapped there are due to the often calm winds of the horse latitudes.
The Sargasso Sea also plays a major role in the migration of the European eel and the American eel. The larvae of both species hatch there and go to Europe or the East Coast of North America. Later in life, they try to return to the Sargasso Sea to lay eggs. It is also believed that after hatching, young Loggerhead Sea Turtles use currents, such as the Gulf Stream to travel to the Sargasso Sea, where they use the Sargassum as cover from predation until they are mature.
The Sargasso Sea was the subject of a recent metagenomics effort called the Global Ocean Sampling (GOS) survey by J. Craig Venter and others, to evaluate the diversity of microbial life there. The results have indicated that, contrary to previous theories, the area has a wide variety of prokaryotic life.
Owing to surface currents, the Sargasso accumulates a high concentration of non-biodegradable plastic waste. The huge North Atlantic Garbage Patch in the area is similar to another ocean phenomenon, the Great Pacific Garbage Patch.
Depictions in popular culture
The Sargasso Sea is often portrayed in literature and the media as an area of mystery.
Stories set within the Sea
In 1846 Edward Forbes hypothesized a post-Miocene land mass extending westward from Europe into the Atlantic. "If this land existed it did not extend to America (for the fossils of the Miocene of America are representative & not identical): where then was the edge or coastline of it, Atlantic-wards? Look at the form & constancy of the great fucus-bank & consider that it is a Sargassum bank".
The Sargasso Sea features in classic fantasy stories by William Hope Hodgson, such as his novel The Boats of the "Glen Carrig" (1907), Victor Appleton's Don Sturdy novel, Don Sturdy in the Port of Lost Ships: Or, Adrift in the Sargasso Sea, and several related short stories. Jules Verne's Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea describes the Sargasso Sea and gives an account of its formation.
In episode 28 of The Little Mermaid (TV series), the Sargasso Sea is featured as the primary location of a great battle involving the merfolk and the octopans.
Other stories include:
- The 1923 silent film The Isle of Lost Ships, an atmospheric adventure from director Maurice Tourneur, takes place in the Sargasso Sea. The film was based on Crittenden Marriott's 1909 novel The Isle of Dead Ships. The Isle of Lost Ships is now a lost film. It was refilmed at the dawn of sound in 1929 by director Irvin Willat.
- Fred Andrew's mystery novel Plato's Pond  features the fictitious land of Gaia, which is a continent in the middle of the Sargassum Sea.
The first episode of "Johnny Quest" was set in a mythical floating ship graveyard in the Sargasso Sea.
- The instrumental jam band Lotus released a double live album in May, 2007, titled Escaping Sargasso Sea (SCI Fidelity Records). It was nominated for a Jammy award by Guitar Player magazine for "Best Live Album of 2007". The album was described by Relix magazine as "sexy and sophisticated dance music, mature enough to be played in the club or the living room".
|Wikisource has the text of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica article Sargasso Sea.|
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- Sargasso Sea Alliance
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- Photos of organisms living in the Sargasso Sea