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Identifying Ecological Hotspots

Full Title: Defining abnormal events of oceanographic, biological, and physical properties in the Gulf of Mexico to identify data gaps

The project characterized variability over space and time of ocean conditions in the Gulf of Mexico.

The Team: Robert Arnone (Lead Investigator, The University of Southern Mississippi,, E. Brooke Jones (The University of Southern Mississippi), Sherwin Ladner (U.S. Naval Research Laboratory), Charles Carlton (NOAA)

Technical Monitor: Julien Lartigue (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

Project Timeframe: November 2015 to November 2018

Award Amount: $366,787

Why it matters: Natural resource managers need information on seasonal and anomalous changes in ocean conditions (e.g. temperature, salinity, chlorophyll concentration) to support adaptive sampling after events such as hurricanes, harmful algal blooms, and freshwater flooding and to identify long-term trends in these conditions. This work created products that identified anomalies and seasonal changes in sea surface conditions in the northern Gulf of Mexico and delivered them to federal and state natural resource managers.

What the team did: The project team used data from computer models of ocean circulation and satellite ocean color and temperature products to measure how ocean conditions, such as salinity, sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentration, and turbidity, were changing in the Gulf of Mexico. To identify when conditions were significantly different or anomalous, they developed software that could compare conditions at one point in time with conditions over previous days, weeks, or seasons. Once they had identified anomalies, researchers created products that visually depicted the anomalies and worked with natural resource managers to demonstrate their utility.  The anomaly products were combined to create a Google Earth visualization tool for managers to view anomalous events occurring in the Gulf of Mexico. By implementing the tool in Google Earth, researchers provided a way for managers to overlay biological data with the anomalies and determine where physical and biological processes are potentially related to anomaly events.

Project Outcomes: The project produced Dynamic Anomaly Products (DAP) for the Gulf of Mexico. Current conditions and anomalous events are mapped for 10 physical and bio-optical properties derived from satellite data products and ocean circulation models. Products are available each week from 2013 – 2018 and can be viewed for any of the 10 properties on Google Earth.

Management Impacts: The results of this work were shared with a broad set of end users working in the Gulf of Mexico. Anomaly products were used to 1) assist three NOAA fisheries research cruises in finalizing their sampling locations, 2) identify areas of abnormal impacts after the passage of hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Nate, 3) find anomalous conditions in the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary including around a die-off event in the summer of 2016,  4) monitor water quality changes in the coastal waters resulting from freshwater inflows after the opening of the Bonnet Carré spillway and 5) identify red tide hotspots associated with river plume movements during the Florida red tide event in the fall of 2018.

Other Resources

Dynamic Anomaly Products (DAP) for the Gulf of Mexico – The anomalies are derived from daily satellite and ocean model properties by calculating occurrences of marine conditions above/below the recent ocean condition. Data products are updated weekly.

OneNOAA Seminar – Identifying Ocean Events and Seasonal Trends of Biophysical Water Properties and Dynamic Anomalous Marine Conditions in the Gulf of Mexico

Arnone, R., E.B. Jones, S. Ladner, and I. Soto. 2018. Seasonal trends of biophysical ocean properties and anomalies across the Mississippi Shelf. Proceedings SPIE 10631, Ocean Sensing and Monitoring X. 1063102 (25 May 2018), 10.1117/12.2309427;

Jones, E.B. and R. Arnone. 2018. Anomalous marine biophysical conditions due to 2016 and 2017 wind and flooding events in the Northeastern Gulf of Mexico. Proceedings SPIE 10631, Ocean Sensing and Monitoring X. 1063103 (25 May 2018), 10.1117/12.2309889;

Arnone, R. and B. Jones. 2017. Monitoring abnormal bio-optical and physical properties in the Gulf of Mexico. Proceedings of SPIE 10186, Ocean Sensing and Monitoring IX. 101860O (22 May 2017), 10.1117/12.2266789;