Weather Patterns associated with Green Turtle Hypothermic Stunning Events in St. Joseph Bay and Mosquito Lagoon, Florida

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Chelonia mydas, green turtle, Florida, hypothermic stunning, cold snap, Arctic Oscillation, advection freeze

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Sea turtles exhibit behavioral responses to cope with metabolic changes caused by seasonal water temperature fluctuations. Extremely low water temperatures (below 10 °C) may result in a mass hypothermic stunning (cold-stun) event, and a very limited time window exists within which sea turtles can be rescued and rehabilitated. Accurately recognizing and predicting weather patterns that cause abrupt cold snaps can alert sea turtle rescue groups and rehabilitation facilities in advance of the cold-stun event, improving their readiness and response times, and ultimately preventing severe impacts to the imperiled species. Therefore, this research analyzed weather data from available years to identify the atmospheric processes that resulted in moderate to severe cold-stun events. Three cold-stun events were examined using Arctic Oscillation data, synoptic scale weather elements, in situ air temperature, water temperature, and wind data. Differences between moderate and severe classifications are contingent upon the cold-snap duration. We examined continental-scale weather patterns that resulted in recent sea turtle cold-stunning events in Florida. Results of this research could be used in the formation of a model capable of forecasting these events, which could serve to alert the Florida Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network to a potential sharp drop in water temperatures and increase their preparedness for responding to mass cold-stunning events.

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Physical Geography, v. 35, issue 2, p. 134-150