Dangerous Underwater Tornadoes Are Swirling Around South China Sea Islands

Chinese scientists have found a series of underwater tornadoes near the Paracel Islands that could destroy a submarine. The islands are nearby the Yulin Naval Base of China, which is known for its nuclear submarines.

The Paracel Islands are called the Xisha Islands by China. Although they are controlled by the Chinese, they are also claimed by Taiwan and Vietnam. Additionally, the islands are a popular spot for tourists. In total, the Paracel Islands contain 130 individual islands.

The underwater tornadoes are also known as deep eddies. They are rare occurrences that are formed by deep water blowing across the floor of the sea. Since they are not visible from the surface, they are extremely dangerous. The deep eddies can extend for miles below sea level.

A research team that was led by South China Sea Institute of Oceanology in Guangzhou Professor Wang Dongxiao recorded several underwater tornadoes in the Xisha Trough, which is located nearby the Paracel Islands.

The vortexes of the deep eddies were more than 100 meters wide, and they were powerful enough to change the landscape of the sea floor below. The currents in the vortexes can flow up to eight times faster than regular ocean currents.

The team wrote in their paper, “These cases indicate that the Xisha Trough is an area where deep eddies are generated, and these can either dissipate locally or propagate in different directions.”

Ocean University of China researcher Dr. Ma Chao said, “This is an important discovery. Deep eddies are like ghosts that have haunted marine scientists for decades. Very, very few records are available because they are extremely difficult to observe. But studying the phenomenon is important, partly because these can be a driving force behind internal waves.”

Submarines that come into contact with with these phenomena can suddenly plunge hundreds of meters in a matter of minutes. If they fall too low, they can be crushed by the immense pressure. Most modern U-boats are unable to travel beyond 500 meters below the ocean’s surface.

Deep eddies have already claimed many submarines in the past. An occurrence off the coast of Boston in 1969 claimed the USS Thresher, taking the lives of all 129 crew members. This represents the single greatest submarine disaster in recorded history.

While there is no known way to stop the underwater tornadoes, at least scientists identified another region prone to this phenomenon. With the discovery, submarine operators will be able to take proper measures to avoid this highly dangerous area.

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