From Scott Carlberg

The Gulf Stream may be considered as a river in the ocean. It’s just offshore North Carolina and could be a source of electricity.

ECC got to hear a presentation at a Raleigh energy conference from one of the scientists researching this concept. We are passing this along because it shows how creative and thoughtful people are exploring new ways to make clean power from the Carolinas.

Location of Coastal Studies Institute

The Coastal Studies Institute [CSI] is in Wanchese, NC, where oceanographers and coastal engineers are exploring how to harness the power of the Gulf Stream. Underwater power.

“The Gulf Stream is a powerful, warm body of water that originates in the Gulf of Mexico and flows northward off the Atlantic coast. Traveling at a speed of approximately 5 miles per hour, the Gulf Stream has more power than all of world’s rivers combined, transporting nearly 2.5 billion cubic feet of water per second off of Cape Hatteras.” (Source)

Gulf Stream. Image: NOAA 

The Gulf Stream is big, transporting nearly four billion cubic feet of water per second, an amount greater than that carried by all of the world’s rivers combined. (Source) Researchers say if they can tap .1% of the available energy it means 300GW of power, the equivalent of 150 nuclear power plants.

Looking for the right place to tap the Gulf Stream


CSI scientists are looking for the sweet spot of the Gulf Stream. The correct placement of marine hydrokinetic devices – machines that can transform water currents to electricity – is critical. The seafloor depth in the middle of the Gulf Stream can be 10,000 feet or more, making mooring any device extremely difficult. The mooring of any devices would need to be along the continental shelf slope but also within the meandering Gulf Stream flow. CSI scientists are currently targeting an area off Cape Hatteras in 250-300m (820-980 ft) of water.

The photo shows an Acoustic Doppler Current Profiler (ADCP), before it was deployed in approximately 275m of water. This device measures current speed and direction from the sea floor to the surface.

Here’s a good way to learn more. Check this video about the Gulf Stream Research Project.

More reading:

About the CSI: Located along the shores of Roanoke Island on East Carolina University’s Outer Banks Campus, the Coastal Studies Institute is a multi-institutional research and education partnership of the UNC system.  Led by East Carolina University, in partnership with NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill, the Coastal Studies Institute focuses on integrated coastal research and education programming centered on responding to the needs, issues, and topics of concern of the residents of eastern North Carolina.  CSI research integrates the natural and social sciences and brings together researchers from different disciplines to answer pressing coastal questions.

CSI research spans a variety of coastal topics from nearshore coastal estuaries to the offshore waters along the continental shelf.  Coastal scientists are researching the processes that drive coastal systems, their effect on our communities and ways we can become more resilient in the face of increasing hazards that threaten our coast.   Ecologists are studying our estuarine systems, their inputs and how we can ensure healthy coastal ecosystems for the future.  Oceanographers and coastal engineers are exploring how ways to harness the power of the Gulf Stream and other renewable ocean energy sources to broaden North Carolina’s energy portfolio.  Maritime archaeologists are uncovering and discovering new shipwrecks and the celebrating the vast maritime heritage of eastern North Carolina.