Articles | Volume 17, issue 6
Research article
03 Dec 2010
Research article |  | 03 Dec 2010

Isolation on the West Florida Shelf with implications for red tides and pollutant dispersal in the Gulf of Mexico

M. J. Olascoaga

Abstract. Analysis of year-long drifter trajectories and records of simulated surface Lagrangian Coherent Structures (LCSs) have suggested the presence of a resilient Cross-Shelf Transport Barrier (CSTB) on the West Florida Shelf (WFS). The CSTB was conjectured to provide a large degree of isolation, which is consequential for the fueling of red tides on the southern WFS by nutrients possibly released by rivers and canals directly on the region. Here this conjecture is thoroughly tested by identifying LCSs as well as performing tracer advection calculations based on seven-year-long records of surface and subsurface currents produced by a HYbrid-Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) simulation of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). The identified LCSs suggest that the CSTB extends downward in the water column. The tracer calculations suggest that, while the majority of the nutrients possibly released by rivers and canals directly on the southern WFS are retained within the region for long times, only a small fraction of the nutrients possibly released by rivers outside the WFS reach the southern WFS, mainly accompanying shoreward excursions of the CSTB. These results add importance to the role played by the CSTB in controlling red tide development on the WFS. Implications of the results for the dispersal of pollutants, such as oil, in the GoM are discussed.