When massive mounds of golden-brown seaweed began piling up on beaches throughout the Caribbean and West Africa in summer of 2011, the question of where it came from probably mattered less to residents and businesses than how they were going to get rid of it. Certainly, few would have connected the Sargassum seaweed invasion to the extremely snowy 2010-11 winter in the eastern United States. But according to a hypothesis proposed by a team of NOAA AOML-led scientists in 2020, the two phenomena share an origin story: an extremely strong and long-lasting shift of the North Atlantic Oscillation into its negative phase back in 2010.
Massive bloom of seaweed in tropical Atlantic raises the risk for Caribbean, Gulf, and Florida beach impacts in coming months
Earlier this year, ocean scientists raised an alert about the large amount of seaweed drifting in the tropical Atlantic this spring. Experts warned that the region’s annual spring bloom of Sargassum—a free-floating brown macroalgae from the North Atlantic that suddenly appeared in large quantities in the tropics in 2011— was the densest observed in March since scientists began tracking the phenomenon with satellite images twenty years ago. Excessive amounts of Sargassum raise the chances that large mats will break free from the prevailing currents and wash ashore later this spring and summer in the Caribbean, Gulf of Mexico, and around Florida.
In a recent study published in Lancet Planetary Health, Joaquin Trinanes, a scientist at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), uses a new generation of climate, population, and socioeconomic projections to map future scenarios of distribution and season suitability for the pathogenic bacteria, Vibrio. For the first time, a global estimate of the population at risk of vibriosis for different time periods is provided.
A recently published paper presents the Sargassum Inundation Report (SIR), a product that uses a satellite-based methodology to monitor from space areas with coastal inundation of pelagic Sargassum in the tropical Atlantic Ocean, Caribbean Sea, and Gulf of Mexico. The SIR was created as a response to the need to improve the monitoring and management of Sargassum influxes (e.g., coordinate clean-up), which have major economic, social, environmental, and public health impacts.
Coastal communities surrounding the northern Caribbean Sea have experienced an abundance of brown algae, known as pelagic Sargassum, washing up along their beaches since 2011. In a recent study conducted by AOML scientists, it was found that Sargassum beaching predictions can be improved by accounting for windage in models.
Scientists are now looking to expand their observing capabilities to include the biology and chemistry of the oceans, currently available globally from ocean color satellites that measure chlorophyll, indicating algal blooms at the ocean surface. A recent paper in the Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology by AOML postdoctoral scientist Cyril Germineaud of the University of Miami’s Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies and colleagues shows that in close synergy with ocean color satellites, a global array of biogeochemical sensors complementing the existing core Argo network could revolutionize our knowledge of the changing state of primary productivity, ocean carbon cycling, ocean acidification, and the patterns of marine ecosystem variability from seasonal to interannual time scales.
The ways in which Sargassum has invaded the tropical Atlantic have been a mystery, but we may now have an answer. A new study in Progress in Oceanography, led by researchers at NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML), identifies possible mechanisms and pathways by which Sargassum entered and flourished in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean.
Collaborative NOAA Research Cruise Studies Role of Ocean Currents in Larval Fish Distribution in Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean
A team of NOAA oceanographers sets sail from Miami aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster on May 7th to investigate ocean currents and fish larvae distribution in the southern Gulf of Mexico and western Caribbean. The joint cruise between NOAA’s Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory (AOML) and Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) is a new chapter in a long-term effort that pools cross-line office resources to better understand the early life history and larval recruitment pathways of important fisheries in the region, including the ecologically important and commercially valuable Atlantic bluefin tuna.
Photos from the scientists and data from the NOAA Nancy Foster Cruise that sailed off in May. The Nancy Foster sailed out on a research survey to search for bluefin tuna larvae among other fishy creatures
AOML is partnering with NOAA’s Southeast Fisheries Science Center (SEFSC) to conduct an interdisciplinary research cruise aboard the NOAA Ship Nancy Foster from April 11, 2015 through June 3, 2015. The cruise will begin in the U.S. Virgin Islands and extend westward across the northern Caribbean conducting various biological and physical oceanographic surveys.