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No. 117: May-June 1998

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Rare North Atlantic Light Wheel

April 30, 1981. North Atlantic Ocean.

"At exactly 2155 GMT, a white seasmoke type mist was observed glowing white between 2 and 5 metres above the sea surface. Further observation revealed that we were entering a large area of circulating bioluminescence of defined spiral form which appeared to be a pale emerald green in colour. Although the direction of rotation and the centre hub of the wheel could not be determined, the bands appeared to be of great dimension. While still proceeding through the bioluminescence and observing astern, it was noted that the formation of the bands became disrupted and seemed to diffuse a ragged appearance at the perimeter of the wheel to the port side of the vessel. Judging by the distance of the vessels close by -- which were being tracked by radar -- the extent of the rotating bands to the west could not be determined but they were estimated to be between and n. mile. The duration of the phenomenon was 4 minutes from entering to leaving the bioluminescence."

(Lehepuu, K.; "Bioluminescence," Marine Observer, 52:76, 1982.)

Comment. Bright marine bioluminescence is not uncommon in the Atlantic, particularly in warm waters, but it is very unusual to find geometrically organized displays. The light wheels seen in the Persian Gulf and South China Sea are more frequent and more highly structured. No one has ever come up with a good explanation of how simple marine organisms cooperate to produce such large, complex, rotating displays.

From Science Frontiers #117, MAY-JUN 1998. 1998-2000 William R. Corliss