The response of the Gulf of Mexico to wind and heat flux forcing: What has been learned in recent years?

JORGE ZAVALA-HIDALGO, ROSARIO ROMERO-CENTENO, ADRIANA MATEOS-JASSO, STEVEN L. MOREY, BENJAMÍN MARTÍNEZ-LÓPEZ

Abstract

The Loop Current and its shed eddies dominate the circulation and dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) basin. Those eddies are strongly energetic and are the cause of intense currents that may penetrate several hundred meters deep. However, there are regions in the GoM and periods of time in which the local atmospheric forcing plays an important role in its dynamics and thermodynamics. The circulation on theshelves, and particularly on the inner shelf, is mainly wind-driven with seasonality, changing direction duringthe year with periods of favorable upwelling/downwelling conditions. The wind-driven circulation is associatedwith the transport of waters with different temperature and salinity characteristics from one region toanother. The interannual variability of the circulation on the shelves is linked to the atmospheric variability.Intraseasonal variability of the wind patterns considerably affects the likelihood and magnitude of upwellingand downwelling. The geometry of the GoM is such that large-scale winds may drive opposing upcoast/downcoast currents along different parts of the curving coast, resulting in convergence or divergence zones.The width of the shelves in the GoM is variable;while the West Florida Shelf, the Texas-Louisiana shelfand the Campeche Bank are more than 200 km wide, they are narrower near Veracruz and Tabasco. Anotherconsequence of the GoM physiography and the wind forcing is the development of cross-shelf transports inthe southern Bay of Campeche, the southern Texas shelf and southeast of the Mississippi river, which in turnvary during the year. During autumn-winter (from September to April), the GoM is affected by cold frontscoming from the northwest United States, which are associated with strong, dry, and cold winds that mixits waters and generate large sensible and latent heat fluxes from the ocean to the atmosphere. These frontalpassages also cool the GoM surface waters due to mixing with lower temperature subsurface waters. Duringsummer, tropical cyclones crossing the GoM can dramatically affect circulation and coastal upwelling.

Keywords

Gulf of Mexico; ocean surface forcing; upper ocean layer.

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