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Observing Systems and Ecosystem Management

Full Title: Evaluation of Gulf of Mexico oceanographic observation networks impact assessment on ecosystem management and recommendation

This project assessed Gulf of Mexico observation networks from an ecosystem management perspective, based on an approach that has been successfully used to assess the capacity of ocean observing networks to effectively monitor ocean circulation.

The Team: Matthieu Le Henaff (Lead Investigator, Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies at the University of Miami,, Villy Kourafalou (University of Miami), Frank Muller-Karger (University of South Florida), and Luke McEachron (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

Technical Monitor: Shay Viehman (

Federal Program Officer/Point of Contact: Frank Parker (

Project Timeframe: September 2015 to August 2019.

Award Amount: $398,812

Why it matters: Observation networks are used to monitor ocean circulation, but these networks need to be optimized and down-scaled to help natural resource managers effectively manage fragile ecosystems. This project improved our understanding of oceanic and atmospheric conditions which resulted in decision support tools that are used for marine spatial planning efforts in Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.

What the team didThe investigators first assessed the performance of existing observation networks to monitor the Gulf of Mexico from an ecosystem monitoring and management perspective. They then used data from these networks to investigate the connections between ocean physics, biogeochemistry and ecosystem dynamics, with a focus on coral ecosystems and how they are impacted by ocean circulation. Finally, the researchers developed two monitoring tools; one for Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary and one for the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary.  

Project Outputs and Outcomes: This project determined that the movement of coastal waters from the Mississippi Delta and the Campeche Bank (off Yucatan Peninsula) toward the interior of the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) and the Straits of Florida are primarily dependent on the Loop Current, and that the Mississippi River discharge plays only a secondary role in Gulf of Mexico circulation patterns.  

Management Impact: The project developed two early warning monitoring tools for National Marine Sanctuary managers. The tools put together data from existing monitoring systems and identify times when non typical waters (e.g. hotter than normal, fresher than normal). Once the abnormal conditions are identified, the tool sends an email to National Marine Sanctuary managers so that they can plan for potential impacts to the coral ecosystem.

Other Resources

Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary Dashboard – provides timely information on Chlorophyll concentrations, Chlorophyll anomalies and river discharge for the Texas Gulf Coast and Flower Garden Banks Marine Sanctuary areas.

Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary Dashboard – provides timely information on sea surface temperature, chlorophyll concentrations, and turbidity for Florida Keys. This tool also provides an Algal Bloom Index for specific areas of the National Marine Sanctuary so managers can plan for potential Algal Blooms. 

Le Henaff, M., and H. Kang. 2019. RESTORE Research: Evaluation of Gulf of Mexico oceanographic observation networks, impact assessment on ecosystem management and recommendations: Simulated Current Velocity, Temperature, Salinity, and Elevation from Hydrodynamic Modeling for 2015 (NCEI Accession 0194303). NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Dataset. doi:10.25921/yv1b-7b75

National Centers for Coastal Ocean Science. 2019. RESTORE Sponsored Research Project: Evaluation of Gulf of Mexico oceanographic observation networks impact assessment on ecosystem management and recommendation. NOAA InPort. Metadata Record.

OneNOAA Science Seminar – Connectivity Processes in the Gulf of Mexico Due to Ocean Circulation: Impact on Coastal Ecosystems and Their Management

McEachron, L., M. LeHenaff, and D. Otis. 2019. NOAA RESTORE Science Program: Evaluation of Gulf of Mexico oceanographic observation networks, impact assessment on ecosystem management and recommendations: Spatio-Temporal Ecosystem Modeling (NCEI Accession 0205678). NOAA National Centers for Environmental Information. Dataset. doi:10.25921/rfds-mj82

Frys, C., Saint-Amand, A., Le Hénaff, M., Figueiredo, J., Kuba,A., Walker, B., Lambrechts, J., Vallaeys, V., Vincent, D., Hanert, E. 2020. Fine-Scale Coral Connectivity Pathways in the Florida Reef Tract: Implications for Conservation and Restoration. Frontiers in Marine Science. 7: 312-328


Le Hénaff, M., F.E. Muller-Karger, V.H. Kourafalou, D. Otis, K.A. Johnson, L. McEachron, and H. Kang. 2019. Coral mortality event in the Flower Garden Banks of the Gulf of Mexico in July 2016: Local hypoxia due to cross-shelf transport of coastal flood waters?. Continental Shelf Research. 190, 10.1016/j.csr.2019.103988


Otis, D., M. Le Hénaff, V. Kourafalou, L. McEachron, and F. Muller-Karger (2019). Mississippi River and Campeche Bank (Gulf of Mexico) episodes of cross-shelf export of coastal waters observed with satellites.Remote Sensing. 11(6): 723 – 737.


Androulidakis, Y.; V. Kourafalou, M. Le Hénaff, H. Kang, T. Sutton, S. Chen, C. Hu, N. Ntaganou. 2019. Offshore spreading of Mississippi waters: Pathways and vertical structure under eddy influence. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 124, 5952– 5978.

McCarthy, M.J., O.B. Otis, P. Mendez-Lazaro, and F.E. Muller-Karger. 2018. Water quality drivers in 11 Gulf of Mexico estuaries. Remote Sensing. 10(2),

Hiester, H.R., S.L. Morey, D.S. Dukhovskoy, E.P. Chassignet, V.H. Kourafalou, and C. Hu. 2016. A topological approach for quantitative comparisons of ocean model fields to satellite ocean color data. Methods in Oceanography, 17:232-250.

McCarthy, M.J., K.E. Colna, M.M. El-Mezayen, A.E. Laureano-Rosario, P. Mendez-Lazaro, D.B. Otis, G. Toro-Farmer, M. Vega-Rodriguez, and F.E. Muller-Karger. 2017. Satellite remote sensing for coastal management: A review of successful applications. Environmental Management 60(2):323-339 doi:10.1007/s00267-017-0880-x

Kourafalou, V., Y. Androulidakis, M. Le Henaff, and H.S. Kang. 2017. The dynamics of Cuba Anticyclones (CubANs) and interaction with the Loop Current/Florida Current system. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 122(10):7897-7923.