This GOES 16-ABI night-time ST composite from May 17, 2023 (left) shows water temperatures above 29 C (~84 F) along the Louisiana coast due to the rapid warming of a shallow buoyant lens of river water from the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers on the continental shelf. A short animation of May 1-19 is shown at right. Intense solar heating in the absence of strong winds is responsible for these warm coastal waters. In deep water, a large Warm Eddy (also > 29 C) is seen to be forming from the northern portion of the Loop Current due in part to the intensification of cyclonic Cold Eddies (CE) along its margin. In contrast to the shallow layer of warm river water along the coast (~1-5 meters deep), the warm water within the high velocity Loop Current extends to about 100 meters deep, giving it the potential to intensify tropical storms and hurricanes that track over it, depending upon atmospheric conditions.
See our gallery collections for various events and topics of interest
See our best animations of the atmoshpere and tropical systems.
Hurricane Katrina's approach to the Gulf Coast
Hurricane Ivan GOES Water Vapor
Hurricane Isidore GOES Water Vapor
Hurricane Edouard GOES IR Quicktime
Hurricane Rita GOES Water Vapor
Hurricane Harvey 2017
Hurricane Georges GOES Infrared
Hurricane Katrina's Eye
Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike GOES WV
Hurricane Edouard GOES IR animated gif
Hurricane Katrina GOES Water Vapor
Hurricane Isabel GOES Water Vapor
Hurricane Maria 2017
Hurricanes Gustav, Hanna, and Ike GOES IR
Hurricane Alex Water Vapor Animation
Hurricane Wilma Water Vapor Animation
Loop Current and Frontal Eddies
The loop current and its frontal eddies greatly impact currents throughout the Gulf of Mexico. See more on these important processes here.
Studying the Loop Current at the ESL
The Gulf of Mexico Loop Current is one of the most dynamic ocean currents in the world. Walker and staff have developed specialized image processing techniques that provide better and more frequent SST retrievals in the Gulf to monitor these currents. Gulf currents are known to impact hurricanes.
The Loop Current and the warm-core eddies that separate from it are large reservoirs of heat that have the capability to intensify hurricanes and tropical storms crossing the Gulf. Conversely, Walker’s research has shown that cold-core eddies, which are regions of vigorous upwelling become energized by hurricane winds. In extreme cases, the cold water that is rapidly upwelled from ~60 m depth can immediately weaken hurricanes by cutting off their energy before landfall. During the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, our SST tracking capabilities led to the discovery of eddy merging along the Loop Current margin, an event that significantly changed oil spill motion.
In the summer months the loop current and its associated eddies can be difficult to detect by inspecting surface temperatures alone.
A warm core eddy below a cool cyclone during the summer of 2013
For this reason additional datasets must be studied in order to determine the location of currents within the Gulf of Mexico. One satellite-based dataset used in this effort are altimeter readings of sea surface heights. The loop current and other clockwise-rotating eddies have a high sea height signature, while counter-clockwise rotating eddies have a low sea height signature. While satellite-derived sea surface temperature data capture information throughout the entire Gulf of Mexico each time a satellite pass is recorded, sea surface heights are recorded only directly below the satellite's nadir. These samples are then interpolated across the entire Gulf of Mexico in order to provide a useful view of sea height conditions. Gathering two dimensional data from one dimensional data samples in this way affects the precision of the of height measurements in areas of the dataset where altimeter sampling is sparse. This means that fast changing ocean processes may be lost in areas of infrequent altimeter sampling. Combining SSH with SST data therefore yeilds a superiour product than either in isolation. To the right you'll see some animations showing altimeter readings taken over the Gulf of Mexico during the course of a day for the time periods indicated. Be sure to visit our GVAR archives to see imagery of ocean currents in the Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic basin.
Learn more about our imagery of surface oil as well as research conducted with this data.
Deepwater Horizon Surface Oil
On April 20, 2010 the Deepwater Horizon (DWH) oil rig experienced a series of malfunctions and subsequent explosions that disengaged the rig from its drill and killed eleven workers onboard. The explosion damaged the wellhead 5,000 feet below the surface, and crude oil flowed from the damaged wellhead until a containment cap was put in place on July 15, 2010.
The Earth Scan Laboratory has been tracking the oil that reaches the surface of the Gulf of Mexico (GOM). The image to the right is a composite of three satellite images all captured around June 14, 2010: calculated sea surface temperatures captured by the MODIS sensor aboard NASA's Aqua-1 satellite with microwave imagery from Radarsat-1 and Envisat superimposed. See links below for surveillance of this environmental crisis.