The spin of the Earth creates myriad eddies in our oceans, most of which move slowly westward at a speed dependent on their latitude. You can see many in the animation above as green and red rings slowly marching to the left. According to theory, it’s possible for two of these eddies to combine to become more than the sum of their parts; under the right conditions, the two conjoined eddies could become a modon, which, like a vortex ring, is capable of traveling far faster than its parental eddies. Despite the theory, however, no one had ever observed a modon in nature.

A new paper uses satellite imagery to identify nine modons in different locations around the world. One is shown above. Watch the eastern coast of Australia carefully, and you’ll see a modon form. It moves much faster than its surroundings, first southward toward Tasmania, then quickly eastward toward New Zealand. Thin black circles mark the two eddies that make up the modon. The strength and speed of these features makes them capable of pulling significant water mass with them. This suggests that they may play a role in ocean life, transporting water of different temperatures and nutrient content into regions it would not otherwise reach. (Image and research credit: C. Hughes and P. Miller; via Gizmodo)

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