Home > Explore Data & Reports > Physical connectivity between Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas coral reefs under the influence of the Loop Current/Florida Current system


Kourafalou, V.H., Y.S. Androulidakis, H. Kang, R.H. Smith, and A. Valle-Levinson. 2018. Physical connectivity between Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas coral reefs under the influence of the Loop Current/Florida Current system. Progress in Oceanography, 165:75-99. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2018.05.004

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The Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas coral reefs are among the most pristine, but also fragile, marine ecosystems of the continental United States. Understanding connectivity processes between them and with surrounding shelf and deep areas is fundamental for their management. This study focuses on the physical processes related to the connectivity of these reefs. Unprecedented in situ time series were used at these specific reef locations, together with satellite observations and numerical simulations, to investigate the dynamics controlling local circulation on the Southwestern Florida Shelf (SWFS) under oceanic influence. The approach of the Loop Current and Florida Current (LC/FC) system to the SWFS slope can induce 0.5 to 1 m/s offshore flows impacting the Pulley Ridge and Dry Tortugas reefs. On the other hand, when the LC/FC system retreats from the slope, onshore flows can carry open-sea waters over the coral reefs. Local formation of cyclonic eddies is possible near the Dry Tortugas reefs in the LC approach case and passage of upstream LC Frontal Eddies is possible in the LC retreat case. Offshore currents ∼1 m/s over the SWFS slope were also found during periods of anticyclonic LC Eddy separation. A novel finding is the shedding and northward propagation of mesoscale anticyclonic eddies from the core of the LC along the West Florida Shelf. Eddy shedding may have a broader effect on the dynamics of the shelf around the study reef areas. Long periods of LC/FC domination over these coral reefs (reaching several weeks to months) are characterized by strong (∼1 m/s) along-shelf currents and continuous upwelling processes, which may weaken the slope stratification and bring colder, deeper waters over the shelf-break and toward the shallower shelf region.

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