Typically, ocean waters flow gently westward, in part driven by the massive, slow waves generated by the Earth’s spin. Even when whirlpools or eddies pop up, they tend to flow along with the rest of the water. But sometimes two eddies can combine into something called a modon, a massive vortex that can break off from the ocean’s regular flow.

Nine of these modons, which were spotted around Australia between 1993 and 2016, were analyzed using satellite imagery and ocean temperature data. The modons — which can resemble massive smoke rings in the water — were found to travel several times faster than the ocean’s typical currents, a new study finds.

In the study, which was published Dec. 4. in the journal Geophysical Research Letters,

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