Maury's writing reflected the spirit of discovery that held the scientific world in its grasp throughout the 19th century. Scientists struggled to understand and explain the unfolding revelations 400 years of European exploration provided. Most of the exploration involved ocean travel, and despite the millions of miles logged by mariners, early scientists knew little about the vast watery expanses.
Probably no other feature of the oceans of the world was more scrutinized, studied, and sailed upon than the warm, blue waters of the Gulf Stream. By the time Maury penned his now-famous ''river in the ocean'' line nearly 150 years ago, scientists were convinced they knew most of what was to be known about it. They were wrong.
From space, the broad expanse of the North Atlantic Ocean spreads from the Arctic Circle to the Equator and from North American to Europe. Under its surface great mountains rise up from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and the Puerto Rico Trench plunges more than 28,000 feet to the ocean floor.
The North Atlantic is famous for its fury and the fickleness of the its weather. Brutal storms sweep across its northern reaches. Endless calms haunt the Horse Latitudes and the Sargasso Sea across its middle. Reliable trade winds blow east from the African coast along its southern limits, pushing early sailing ships and modern hurricanes.
For centuries, men have struggled to learn more about the Gulf Stream. Each generation seems sure it has figured it out. Maury's ''The Physical Geography of the Sea and Its Meteorology'' sought to explain the Gulf Stream and the many faces of the North Atlantic. Nineteenth century oceanographers saw the changeable nature of the North Atlantic as a jumbled array with many parts. Today's scientists see the parts as pieces of a larger system they are still trying to understand.
The energy of the sun, the pull of the moon, and the rotation of the earth spin the waters of the North Atlantic clockwise like a giant wheel. At the center of the wheel is the Sargasso Sea, a calm hub in the middle of the spinning water. Along the edges of the wheel run great currents -- the North Atlantic, Canaries, Equatorial -- and the most famous of all, the Gulf Stream.
for a more detailed history of the gulfstream, also see The Gulf Stream, Stories and Tales of the Coast