Sunday, March 19, 2017

Monsoons and Wind and Ocean Currents – Part I

A reader, and no doubt Malay theorist, sent us an article entitled: Historical Notes, “Monsoon wind and maritime trade: a case study of historical evidence” (Current Science, Vol 90, No 6, March 2006, p864) which had several drawings of maps and ocean currents, but was mostly surrounding India and the Bay of Bengal.
Unfortunately, while it seems to contradict our stand on the ocean currents and winds in the Indian Ocean, which was evidently the point of Jay, the submitter, we would like to point out several errors or misleading information in the article.
    First of all, despite the fact that this will not sit well with our readers from India, in regard to the article and reference, The Current Science journal is a publication of an India-peer review scientific journal technology and not a mainstream science publication, though it has been around since 1932 and is published in corroboration with the Indian Academy of Sciences. The journal’s “Impact Factor” is .833 on a scale of highest is best. By comparison, Nature Journal has 41.456; Science 33.61; Physical Science 31.00—meaning they had 41½, 33½, and 31 citations per issue each year, compared to Current Science with less than one citation per issue each year. For an understanding, the “Journal Impact Factor” is used to compare different journals within a certain field—the Web Science indexes more than 11,000 science and social science journals for the average number of citations (the life blood of any journal) to recent articles published in that journal, and used as a proxy (measurement) for the relative importance of a journal within its field. By comparison, consider these SJR [Scimago Journal & Country Rank] open-access journal ratings, of the top 50 journals, ranking from 126.67 references per document to 18.60, and from 11.347 on the SJR to 0.621, Current Science is not even listed among their top 50. And on the H-Index ranking (author-level metric that measures both the productivity and citation impact of the publications of a scientist or scholar), Current Science ranks 84, while the Journal of Geophysical Research ranks 226; Limnology and Oceanography 151; Marine Pollution Bulletin 113; Paleogeography, Paleoclimatology, Paleoecology 112; Deep Sea Research 110; Journal of Physical Oceanography 109; Paleoceanography 100; Marine Chemistry 99; Marine Geology 98; Oceanographic Research 96; Global and Planetary Change 94; Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science 94 and several others between 90 and 85.
Current Science claims that it publishes special sections on diverse and topical themes of interest and this has served as a platform for the scientific fraternity to get their work acknowledged and highlighted,” however, as one might suspect from the “Impact Factor,” the work of these India (and other) scientists are not well recognized in the scientific community. It is also mentioned, including the writing about India Monsoons, the “contributions to these special issues ‘which receive widespread attention’ are from leading scientists in India and abroad,” but again, they do not receive widespread attention, as an example less than one citation per issue per year.
    Now, having said that, though it is extremely important when citing a references for one’s own purposes as the submitter did for this blog, let us provide some suggestions as to why this citation information could be so low in regard to the article that was referenced. Keep in mind that low rankings does not, in and of itself, reflect on the accuracy and value of the article in question, however, our response comes after reading the article and looking up some of the references quoted.
    While the submitter used the article reference as an all-inclusive reference to sailing with winds and currents from the south coast of Arabia to the Malay Peninsula, the article itself concentrated on sailing to and from India, which is a pivotal land mass that extends deep into the Indian Ocean between these two points (Arabia and Malay). In addition, the article’s authors Sila Tripati and L. N. Raut, no doubt well knowledgeable of their subject, continually use qualifying terminology in at least 33 cases, such as “probably” (6 times), as in “probably commenced their journey“ or “probably the knowledge, and “might have” (6 times), such as “Sailors might have sailed to overseas countries…” or “might have passed down…” and also “not clear” (2 times) as in “reasons are not clear,” and “evidence,” which is used 10 times in the entire article with only 3 references, the rest are just words used as though they have support but do not, and in one case, is used in “but no direct evidence…” and there is “possible” as in “as possible within direct observation” but no reference is given, and in “difficult to determine” as in “it is difficult to determine when the southwest monsoon…” and in stating as non-referenced date, then adding “if not earlier,” again, without support, and also “none” as in “none of the foreign authors has mentioned…” There is also using dates, such as nine million years ago, or 2500 years ago, claiming they are datable, but giving no dating support.
    This type of writing is done when one is “hedging their bets,” or “stating opinions or speculation that is not provable,” and is often found in professional, scientific writing because statements are being made out of belief or attitudes and not out of facts and provable knowledge.
    Also, no references are given to adamant statements of importance, such as “Archaeological and historical evidences indicate…” “during the early historical period…”
    The title of article is “Monsoon wind and maritime trade: a case study of historical evidence from Orissa, India,” yet in the entire article, only 29 references are listed, and many of these do not relate to all that is being said prior to the noted reference, which is particularly misleading during run-on sentencing, since it is not possible to know which of the earlier comment is being referenced.
    There are also numerous misleading comments, such as: “when [the] northeast monsoon begins over south of the Indian peninsula” (emphasis added) since the monsoons do not begin over the southern peninsula, but rage from the north and hit all across the country, bringing extensive flooding to the inland areas each year.
Flooding in the four specific areas from Gujarat in the northwest along the border with Pakistan, to Assam in the northeast corner along the Myanmar (Burma) border, and across the central parts of India (Madhya and Bihar), where the Monsoons begin and push across the country to the Indian Ocean far to the south of India

    As an example, a recent article under the heading of “Incredible Flood Damage Across Northern India,” by Mark Byrnes (Atlantic City Lab, June 29, 2013), and stated: “Heavy rains caused the worst damage in the states of Uttarakhand and Himachal Pradesh, located in the foothills of the Himalayas. Downpours there have left roads, homes, cars and cell phone towers destroyed.”
Examples of the flooding in the north and across the country (none of these shots are in the south)

    The referenced article was based on ancient mariners from Orissa (formerly Odisha), which is along the northeastern coast of India, separated from the Bangladesh border by the state of West Bengal at the most northern shore of the Bay of Bengal. A look at the map below should suggest that the authors were writing about and suggesting travels within the Bay of Bengal to which they addressed most of their remarks. The Bay is a closed eco-system of winds and currents and reaching Malay from Orissa or even the east coast of India and Sir Lanka would not be that difficult since they were not sailing in the Indian Ocean at all, and solely within the Bay which has sets of currents all its own and not subject to those of the Indian Ocean, but where the monsoons have direct vertical effect (north and south) but not hindered by sub-current (east and west) that effect the Sea of Arabia and the Indian Ocean. To show this, the authors of the article included 12 maps of the Bay of Bengal’s ocean currents in which the months of June and July would be best to sail south toward Malay and Sumatra; however, the maps are of such poor quality it is difficult to see if any months show movement back to the north.
(See the next post, “Monsoons and Wind and Ocean Currents – Part II,”  regarding more of our answer to a reader’s submission about our being wrong regarding the winds and currents in the Indian Ocean and not being able to sail from Arabia to Indonesia, specifically the Malay Peninsula, in 600 B.C. In his comment, he included an extensive article appearing in the India Current Science journal showing winds and currents)


  1. Thanks for the detailed post Del. Let me be clear that my comments were not meant to speak to your model. I was responding to a statement in that particular post claiming that "The winds and currents do not blow from Arabia to Malay." This is true for only half of the year. The other half of the year, as I noted, it is possible that a vessel could skirt along the African coast and catch the southeasterlies. This link provides an easy way to visualize the currents and the winds based on month. Of course there is no way to compare March 2017 AD to March 589 BC. But based on present data it would have been possible to go east towards the Malay archipelago or south past Madagascar, depending on the month of their departure.,1.09,444

  2. Noted. However, as you will see in the rest of these posts on this matter, the wind does not blow as you indicate, but on its so-called eastward path, it blows into the Bay of Bengal and not into Indonesia—it is a southwest wind, meaning it blows to the northeast—not the east. That is a big difference given the configuration of the land in this area. On the other hand, coastal waters blow differently along the coast where a ship like Nephi’s (driven forth before the wind) would not be sailing. The places you sight are not talking about the winds in the way you are interpreting them, but are subject to the monsoon directions (inland and out to see, not across the sea—which occurs further south than where we are talking about (south of the equator) in the Indian Ocean Gyre. If six months of the year the winds blew to the east, there would be no devastation across India, etc., that occurs almost yearly. Your sources indicate a general understanding, but we are talking about and quoting sources that are specific to the wind directions we mention here. You need to keep in mind that there is more at play than just the monsoons, like the Coriolis Effect, the north (above the equator) impact, and the actual monsoon directions (northeast to southwest, southwest to northeast) since these monsoons do not blow east and west, but more north and south. Now, if you will look at the globe map you sent in the URL above, you will note that the movement you see is below the equator (and actually is a little further south than this map shows, since it is the northern arm of the Indian Ocean Gyre, which is a counter-clockwise current flowing in the opposite direction as the one shown. And as your own earlier article showed, moved from east to west in the north (north of the equator). It is also interesting if you follow the other globes on the link you sent, it shows in the Pacific the current flows east to west along this same equatorial belt—frankly, earth’s dynamics and the principle of ocean currents would not allow the one in the Indian Ocean to flow in the opposite direction, they are both governed by the same gravitational pull and Coriolis Effect, which means they cannot flow differently. Anyway, there are three more articles on this subject coming up in this blog in answering your initial material. If it doesn’t show to your satisfaction where these currents flow, then we will simply have to agree to disagree.

  3. Continuing: By the way, if you were to look at the actual movement of the currents on another of the globe maps that are part of the link you sent me (they are not labeled) you would find in the Indian Ocean the currents in the south flow as we have indicated, and there are no currents between Africa and Indonesia moving (the north is very different in this ocean) and the map shows only a slight movement toward the south of Sumatra and past Java—but no current moving as you indicate…none at all north of the equator. It should also be noted that these maps, of course, have a specific purpose and meant to convey certain type of information, which was not included in the link you sent.

  4. I have a question Del. I don't know a darn thing about winds and currents and so I need some education. Nephi only sailed with likely one square sail. How important is the wind verses the current. Of course if the wind wasn' t blowing the current would move the ship. The answer is probably in your book but how far off of the direction of the wind could you sail and how far off or the current? It's obvious Nephi had both wind and current. I'm talking to some fine Meso believers right now and I want to ask them how they levitate Nephi to the Promised Land. Thanks.

  5. Iterry: An excellent question—one that has not been asked before in here. The answer is not as specific as you might expect because the wind direction and current direction are not exactly identical, and both have a width factor. As an example, a current is like a very wide freeway (the widest is in Texas with 26 lanes), so in moving along the current, Nephi would have been able to steer his ship from one lane to another, so to speak, or all the way from one side of the freeway (current) to the other, thus when Nephi was tied up and the Liahona stopped working, his brothers “knew not whether they should steer the ship” (1 Nephi 18:13). So think of this as driving along in the slow lane and the steering wheel locks up (Nephi tied up) and the freeway takes a slight bend to the right and the car (ship) continues straight, or would appear to drift to the left into the fast lane, which leads off onto another freeway heading in a circular cloverleaf away from the course you were on. In this scenario, the brothers didn’t know how to keep the ship from entering into the current that swept around in the storm and turned them back in the direction they had been going. It was imperative that Nephi keep the ship in the right hand land, which eventually dropped down where the south Indian Ocean Gyre picked it up and took it into the counter-clockwise current and eventually into the Southern Ocean, etc.; however, the brothers did not understand that.
    As for the sail, that is unknown but two factors are to be considered. One, a single sail is much easier to deal with than two or more—which would require more manpower to furl and unfurl when the wind blew them too far off track. On the other hand, two sails would be more efficient in dealing with the strong winds in the Southern Ocean. My personal feeling is there were two masts and two sails, but that is merely speculation.
    As for the wind, if you can turn the sail (yardarm) some degrees, you can sail more closely to the wind (more into the wind. But I doubt Nephi’s ship could do that merely because of the expertise that would have been required, i.e., even experienced seamen can easily misjudge the real strength of the wind since the boat speed subtracts directly from the true wind speed, making the apparent wind less). On the other hand, the Liahona could give instruction and the ship could have been designed to do this to a small degree, thus giving Nephi some leeway in the width of the band of wind he could use (moving left or right like changing lanes). But in the course we talk about with the prevailing winds constant, that might not have been necessary.
    (continued below)

  6. (continued from above)
    The answer to your question lies in an understanding of wind passing across the sail, which means as long as the wind is on the back (aft) of the sail and can billow the sheet (provide forward momentum). So as long as the arc of the wind’s movement across a band from side to side does not place more wind on the front of the sail than on the back (spilling), the ship moves forward.
    As for the wind not blowing, it is the fact that the wind does blow that the current moves. If the wind is not blowing the current is basically not moving and the vessel drifts with whatever sea movement still exists. Thus, the ship becomes becalmed and you are in a “dead zone” where, during the Age of Sail, the long boats were broken out, manned and crews pulled the ship into an area where the wind and currents were moving—this usually occurs just north and just south of the equator.
    Finally, in Nephi’s ship, driven forth before the wind, you could not sail off the current, or across current, like the early Polynesians did sailing north and south to Hawaii and back, who sailed across the currents—for that, you need a small craft with a lateen, movable sail. Stated differently, when underway, a ship is moving forward. When the wind dies down, the ship continues to move forward until the friction of the water slows it down to a “standstill.” That is why, when Nephi’s ship hit the area of 30º south latitude (off the Chilean coast), the winds died, the currents slowed, and the momentum of the ship before slowing down could be steered sideways (toward land) and into the bay (Bay of Coquimbo). Had it continued to drift forward, it would have eventually picked up speed again as it hit the northern side of these doldrums and continued on its way.
    Note that all of this is in layman’s language. A mariner would have stated it quite differently, but the meaning would have been the same.
    I believe that answered all your questions. If not, let me know.