Pictured is UD Assistant Professor Xinfeng Liang

Investigating the Gulf of Mexico’s Loop Current

March 02, 2021 Written by Adam Thomas | Photo by Xinfeng Liang

Xinfeng Liang, assistant professor in the School of Marine Science and Policy (SMSP), and his research group have recently published a paper in the research journal Geophysical Research Letters showing how eddies connect the tropical Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico. 

Minghai Huang, a doctoral level student in the University of Delaware’s College of Earth, Ocean and Environment who works in Liang’s research group, served as the lead author on the Paper. In addition to Liang, Yingli Zhu, a post-doctoral researcher in SMSP, also served as a co-author on the paper. 

The research investigated the Loop Current (LC), which is the dominant large‐scale oceanic process in the Gulf of Mexico. While there have been numerical circulation modeling and observational studies conducted to understand the LC behaviors in the Gulf of Mexico, the mechanism for variations of the LC system is still unsolved. 

In the paper, the researchers combined satellite altimetry, sea surface salinity and ocean color data to demonstrate that mesoscale eddies originating in the western tropical Atlantic Ocean can eventually make their way through the Caribbean Sea and enter the Gulf of Mexico and likely affect the LC. 

Other materials, such as chlorophyll, trapped in the eddies could also reach the Gulf of Mexico. In particular, freshwater of Amazon and Orinoco River origin trapped within mesoscale eddies can enter the Gulf of Mexico, potentially affecting the Gulf’s stratification.

The paper provides insights into understanding the variations of the LC system and provides an explicit example showing how eddies can serve as a route connecting regional seas and the open ocean.

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