Keweenaw’s Curious Current

Beauty alone isn’t what makes the rugged Keweenaw Peninsula coast a paddler’s dream. A unique force is at work beneath their boats.

Here’s the scoop on this watery wonderland:

The Keweenaw Current is a northeasterly flow of warm water that runs along the peninsula’s northern shore from the base at Ontonagon up to Copper Harbor, where it spirals off the tip near Gull Rock and Manitou Island.

Michigan Technological University researcher Sarah Green and a group of scientists studied the current from 1998 to 2000. According to Green, the current is a tale of two depths and two temperatures. Shallow water near shore warms up, while just offshore a deep trough keeps temps cold. The two bodies of water don’t mix well, and the cold water constricts the warm water against the land, causing it to squirt up the coast.

The year-round phenomenon is strongest in summer and near areas where the lake depth varies dramatically, like at Eagle Harbor where the researchers once clocked it at 1.3 mph. If you’re tempted to scoff at that seemingly sloth-like speed, keep in mind that the average sea kayaker only travels between 3 and 4 mph. So don’t be surprised if you’re traveling slower and are a little more tired than usual when paddling south along the Keweenaw’s northern rim.

Aaron Peterson is a freelance writer and photographer based in Marquette, a short drive or a long paddle from the Keweenaw. To learn more about his work, visit aaronpeterson.net.

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