A Historic Timeline of Geographic and Scientific Exploration in the Strait of Florida


Spanish explorer Ponce de Leon first reports what is now known as the Florida Current after skirting the northern Bahamas, landing somewhere along the northern or central Florida east coast, and turning south into a current that his ships could not stem.


John White, former Governor of the Roanoke colony, first refers to an inshore counter current and indicates the approximate position of the main current axis: "We lost sight of the coast and stood to sea for to gaine the helpe of the current, which runneth much swifter farre off than in sight of the coast, for from the Cape of Florida to Virginia, all along the shore, are none but eddie currents setting to the south and southwest."


In describing ocean currents in the greatest detail to date, German geographer Bernhardus Varenius (Bernhard Varen), also anticipates understanding of the Coriolis effect and westward intensification: "some Copernicans, as for instance Keppler, pretend that also the movement of our globe contributes not a little toward it because the water, not being adherent to the earth but only in a loose contact with it, cannot follow the quickness of its motion toward the east, but is left behind toward the west, so that the sea does not move from one part to the other, but on the contrary it is the earth which quits or leaves the parts of the sea, one after the other."


German Jesuit polymath Athanasius Kircher publishes the first map that illustrates ocean currents, including a series of curved lines along the east coast of North America that resembles the Gulf Stream. 


Eberhard Happelius publishes a second chart of Gulf Stream.


Benjamin Franklin, as Post Master General, authorizes his cousin, the whaling captain, Timothy Folger, to draw up a map of the Gulf Stream to improve mail delivery between the colonies and England. The map shows the current beginning abruptly between southern Florida and the Bahamas.


Franklin and Charles Blagden begin taking temperature measurements across the Gulf Stream as an aid to navigation.


Jonathon William's Thermometrical Navigation includes a map of the Gulf Stream.


The first cold core eddy is described.


Alexander von Humboldt attributes seasonal characteristics to the Gulf Stream.


James Rennell's map of the North Atlantic circulation clearly shows flow through the Strait from the Gulf of Mexico, as well as the upstream flow across the Caribbean Sea and equatorial Atlantic.


Under the direction of Alexander Dallas Bache, the U.S. Coast Survey begins modern hydrographic surveying of the Gulf Stream. The surveys preserve what will become, by 1870, 9,000 sea floor sediment samples.


Lieut. George Bache refers to the inner edge of the Gulf Stream as the "Cold Wall".


Lieut. Matthew F. Maury publishes the first Wind & Current Charts (U.S. Hydrographic Office). Series D, Thermal Sheets, showing sea surface temperatures at different seasons first appear in 1852. At a given site, winter temperature figures are shown upright, summer inverted, spring and autumn standing on their right and left sides (all in different colors).


Louis Agassiz takes the first depth soundings the Florida Keys for the U.S. Coast Survey and recognizes that the Florida Keys support a living shallow-water reef.


The first steam-powered survey vessel, the U.S. Coast Survey Steamer Bibb, begins hydrographic surveys of the Gulf Stream.


Bibb makes first sounding profile across the Strait.


The U.S. Coast Survey publishes a general map of the Gulf Stream.


The U.S. Coast Survey publishes a map of the Strait with soundings.


Louis Francois de Pourtalès & Henry Mitchell begin the first systematic hydrographic survey of the southern Straits. The bare outlines of what will be known as the Pourtalès Terrace are found during a survey for the Key West to Havana telegraph cable.


Robert Platt, Capt. Charles D Sigsbee, John Elliott Pillsbury & Charles C Yates begin limited depth sounding surveys of the northern Straits, which continue to 1919. The early surveys were practical exercises in the service of navigation. Because they revealed no navigational hazards in open waters, no further open water hydrographic studies were conducted until the 1950s.


Pourtalès publishes a map of marine sediments of the U.S. east coast from Florida to Massachusetts. It is published in a German journal due to the Coast Survey's chronic shortage of funds (and the unwillingness of Congress to sponsor anything scientific not directly related to practical ends).


Alexander Agassiz, Louis' son, begins physical and biological investigations in the Strait of Florida aboard the Coast Survey steamer Blake.


John Elliott Pillsbury begins detailed hydrographic surveys of temperature and velocity across multiple transects of the Strait and Gulf Stream, including anchoring at depths to 3990 m.


U.S. Fish Commission steamer, Albatross, the first large ship built specifically for oceanographic research, begins work in the Atlantic under the direction of Alexander Agassiz. The classic, Oceanic Ichthyology (1896), by G. Brown Goode and T.H. Bean is based largely on the deep-sea fishes collected by this ship.


Alexander Agassiz publishes Three Cruises of the Blake in two volumes, detailing instrumentation, bottom topography, sediments, and deep-sea organisms.


George Wüst demonstrates geostrophic nature of flow through the Straits of Florida.


Carl Rossby attempts to connect the downstream increase in mass transport to that of a turbulent wake.


Albert Parr reports variations in temperature, salinity and flow velocity in the Straits of Florida.


Raymond Montgomery calculates variations in total transport from variations in sea surface slopes recorded by tide gauges.


Henry Stommel shows that the Gulf Stream could be explained deductively by fluid dynamics. He found the mechanism (the latitudinal change of the Coriolis force on the rotating Earth) that produced the westward intensification of oceanic currents.


Surveys of the southeastern U.S. by the Coast & Geodetic Survey use electronically controlled echo sounding; Bahama slopes remain poorly known.


The University of Miami initiates reconnaissance hydrographic surveys in the northern Straits (Siegler 1959). Henry Stommel publishes The Gulf Stream


Robert Hurley (University of Miami) and others publish bathymetric maps of the northern and southern Straits, including continuous seismic surveys showing sub-bottom profiles of the Florida side. The techniques are similar to echo sounding but use a more intense & lower frequency: 1000 joule electric spark discharged 1 sec-1. The techinque produces a high-level, short duration, low frequency pulse with maximum energy at 200-600 cycles sec-1. Returning echoes are received by hydrophone array under ship.


GF Jordan, RJ Malloy and JW Kofoed publish a bathymetric map of the Pourtalès Terrace.


Kofoed & Malloy publish a bathymetric map of the Miami Terrace. Chiefly geological submersible observations begin on both sides of Straits coupled with high-frequency, high-resolution, single-channel, air-gun seismic reflection profiling, which produce more detailed studies of local geology.


Aerial surveys and first satellite observations using infrared sensors.


Malloy & Hurley publish a large, detailed bathymetric map of the entire Strait. AC

Neumann and MM Ball describe the results of the first submersible dives in the Strait (Alvin)—off Bimini and Miami.


RM Avent, ME King and RH Gore discover Oculina varicosa coral banks off the east coast of Florida.

AC Neumann,  JW Kofoed and GH Keller first describe the elongated mounds they name lithoherms in the northeastern Strait.


The first observations of dynamic topography variations in cold wall, warm eddies and cold core rings using radar altimeter on SEASAT satellite; first observations of color variations due to chlorophyll concentrations in the Gulf Stream, it's eddies and rings, using a CZCS sensor. Launch of Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR), permitting major improvements in infrared observations of the Gulf Stream.


NOAA establishes the Subtropical Atlantic Climate Studies (STACS) program on improving understanding of North Atlantic circulation dynamics and identifying major heat transporting processes in order to facilitate climate prediction models. Researchers use voltage variations in undersea cables, tidal, radar & acoustic measurements. The measurement of variations via cross-stream voltage differences depend on current flow through earth's magnetic field, which creates a cross-stream voltage. A comparison of voltage and independent transport measurements establishes a linear relationship between voltage and transport of the current.


NOAA designates a 315-km2 region as the Oculina Habitat of Particular Concern (OHAPC), which establishes the first deep-sea coral marine protected area in the world (Oculina varicose; 70-100 m depths) and prohibits bottom trawling, dredging, bottom longlines and anchoring. However, the protected area covers less than 30% of the reef system known at the time.


First attempts to assimilate altimeter (GEOSAT) data into computer models of current flow.


The Southeast Florida and Caribbean Recruitment (SEFCAR) program begins to investigate relationships between physical oceanographic processes such as current meanders and eddies, the forces that generate them, and their consequences for the distribution and recruitment of larval fishes and crustaceans.


FS Anselmetti, GP Eberli and Z-D Ding collect high-resolution, multichannel seismic data across the eastern edge of the Strait to reveal how the development of the margin of Great Bahama Bank has been controlled during the Neogene by sea-level fluctuations and ocean currents.


Launch of the Sea-viewing Wide Field-of-view Sensor (SeaWiFS) ocean color sensor, part of NASA's Earth Science Enterprise. Subtle changes in ocean color signify various types and quantities of marine phytoplankton (microscopic marine plants).


The Oculina Habitat of Particular Concern is expanded to 1029 km2 by extending the boundary north to Cape Canaveral.


NOAA Fisheries Service and the Secretary of Commerce approve the establishment of a series of Deep-water Coral Habitat Areas of Particular Concern (Coral HAPCs) extending from North Carolina to the Florida Keys and encompassing more than 23,000 square miles.