Tracking Sea Surface Salinity and Dissolved Oxygen On a River-Influenced, Seasonally Stratified Shelf, Mississippi Bight, Northern Gulf of Mexico

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Marine Science


River discharge, and its resulting region of freshwater influence (ROFI) in the coastal ocean, has a critical influence on physical and biogeochemical processes in seasonally stratified shelf ecosystems. Multi-year (2010–2016) observations of satellite-derived sea surface salinity (SSS) and in situ water column hydrographic data during summer 2016 were used to investigate physical aspects of the ROFI east of the Mississippi River Delta to better assess regional susceptibility to hypoxia in the summer months. Time series of SSS data indicate that the shelf region impacted by the seasonal expansion of freshwater can be as extensive as the well-known “dead zone” region west of the Delta, and hydrographic observations from a shelf-wide survey indicate strong stratification associated with the ROFI. Peak buoyancy frequencies typically ranged between 0.15 and 0.25 s−1 and were concentrated in a 2–3 m layer around 4–10 m deep across much of the shelf. This ROFI is expected to be influenced by local freshwater sources which, while individually small, make a notable contribution in aggregate to the region (annually averaged daily discharge of approximately 2880 m3 s−1). The dissolved oxygen (DO) conditions under this freshwater cap were spatially and temporally variable, with areas of hypoxia and near-hypoxic conditions over portions of the shelf, demonstrating the utility of satellite-derived SSS in identifying coastal areas potential vulnerability to hypoxia. These regions of low bottom dissolved oxygen persisted throughout the peak summer season at several sites on the shelf, with the northeastern corner of Mississippi Bight having the most intense and persistent hypoxia.

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Continental Shelf Research



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