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Current in the Maldives. Where does it come from?

1. It all starts with the Monsoon


When you hear ‘Monsoon’ you hear Rain. Rain can be a result of (the changing of) monsoons, but there is so much more to it then that. Most important, the monsoons are seasonal and they have different wind directions which influence the climate and current.

In the Maldives there are two seasons (monsoons). The first one is the Halhangu from May until the end of October and the second monsoon is the Iruvai from November to the end of April. In the Halhangu the wind blows from the south-west and the wind driven current comes from the west. As the wind arrives over the Indian ocean it is relative moist , which means more chance of rain. In the other season, the Iruvai the wind blows from the North-East, and the current comes from the east.  Coming from India it brings relative dry wind which means mostly dry and more stable weather.

During the monsoon change in May, weather can be unpredictable and very rough, more about that in one of my other blogs coming up.

The monsoon driven current is the main current influencing the current in the Maldives.

2. Add some Tidal current

Tides are the rise and fall of sea levels caused by the combined effects of the gravitational forces exerted by the Moon and the Sun and the rotation of the Earth.

 In the Maldives the tides are not effected by a large landmass like for instance in Europe. In the Maldives the tidal wave is the pure wave moving over the surface of the earth from east to west induced by the gravity of sun and moon and not disturbed by any landmass.

Now imagine a tsunami approaching a coastal line. You probably have seen disaster movies where something like this happens. The water is retracting towards the wave and the beach falls dry. In other words: if the wave (high tide) is approaching the water moves towards the wave and if the wave passes and it becomes low tide again we see the opposite effect and the water follows the direction of the wave. 

If we translate this to our situation: the tidal wave comes in from the east so when the tide rises the tide induced current moves towards the wave so is running from the west and when the tide lowers, the tide induced current is running from the east.

Divers who have been diving in Europe know something about tides and know the tide heights change during the month depending with the moon phase. Two times a month it is spring tide, when the tide difference between high and low tide is very high. This is 2 days after new moon and 2 days after full moon when gravitational pull from sun and moon align.

In the Maldives the difference around spring tide (full & new moon) is about 90cm, around first or last quarter it is about 30cm. Current is corresponding. Tidal induced current is very strong around spring tide and very weak around first and last quarter.

3. Put the two current systems together: superposition !

Superposition is nothing more than addition of the two current systems.

Above: current when monsoon and tidal current line up. 4 knots, a great experience!

Lets start with the assumption we are in the Iruvai, the East monsoon with the current coming from the East. Upon that we can add the tide induced current. West-current when the tide comes up and East-current when the tide goes down.

From this we can deduct that in the East monsoon we have very strong current from the East when the tide goes down and little East (or maybe even West current) when the tide goes up.

From experience we know that around spring tide the current from the tide going up is strong enough to overcome the East current from the monsoon.

So we have East current all month long except the 3 or 4 days around full and new moon, when the current runs from the West 2 times a couple of hours a day when the tide comes up and the rest of the day we have East current and very strong East current when the tide goes down and monsoon and tide induced current allign.

This is something most guides in the Maldives do not understand. They expect the current to run from the East in the East monsoon and are surprised when sometimes the current runs from the West. They just go to the dive site and, when you’re lucky, they’ll check the current, but they cannot anticipate on what will happen the next days.

With the ability to predict what the current will be on a certain moment A knowledgeable guide can squeeze better dives out of the Maldives than others. This knowledge can make the difference between a great dive on a place that is not dived by others at that time or a crappy dive at a great dive site because of the wrong circumstances.

The above is all an approximation but gives you more foundation than most. When we have strong winds or storm (even when the storm is 500km away) or if the monsoon changes (in May & November) the tide tables can be totally inaccurate and predictions about current are very difficult. 

We use our understanding of current and the way (big) fish behave to make sure our guests experience unforgettable dives. How? Read about it in my next blog!

About the Author
Bas has been in Information technology for 12 years after finishing his mechanical and aeronautical engineering study. After his study he started in a space engineering environment and later moved to automotive information technology. In 2007 he became fed up with the office life and went to Thailand to become a dive instructor where he worked for several companies. At the end of 2007 he had the opportunity to take over a live aboard operation in the Maldives. Being initially on low budget boats has been a tough learning school but excellent to get to know the Maldives, the way to work with crew and boats, to get to know how to get things done and to find reliable business partners. In the last couple of years he has organised more than 250 liveaboards doing more than 6000 dives. Boats he operated are the Blue Dolphin, Tombilli, Bolero, Dinasha, GTM Cruiser, Amphibiya, Haira, and Carina. Due to changing family circumstances he sold his live aboard company and started a travel agency "The Real Maldives". A company specializing in guesthouses, resorts and liveaboards in the Maldives. All hand picked because of their reliability and service.