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No. 137: SEP-OCT 2001

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The Long Reach Of The Hawaiian Islands

From aircraft and satellites, one can see strong contrasts in the roughness of the ocean surface in the lee of those idyllic islands with their volcanic peaks that poke over 10,000 feet into the Pacific airstreams. These long streaks on the ocean surface are called "wind wakes."

The wind wake leeward the Hawaii is spectacular. These islands are swept by steady northeast trade winds. Mauna Kea (4201 meters), Mauna Loa (4201 meters), and other Hawaiian peaks penetrate high above trade inversion. Together they create a visible wind wake some 3,000 kilometers long to the west -- many time-greater than any other island wind wakes to be seen on the planet.

The effects of these soaring peaks are more than visual. Their wind wake drives an eastward ocean current that, in turn, draws warm water away from the Asian coast 8,000 kilometers distant from Hawaii. Thus, a few island mountains affect the climate of a continent a fifth of the way around the globe!

(Xie, Shang-Ping, et al; "Far-Reaching Effects of the Hawaiian Islands on the Pacific Ocean-Atmosphere System," Science, 292:2057, 2001.)

Comment. The Hawaiian wind wake is not anomalous but it is surely interesting.

From Science Frontiers #137, SEP-OCT 2001. 2001 William R. Corliss

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