Marine Science Faculty Publications

The great Atlantic Sargassum Belt

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Pelagic Sargassum is abundant in the Sargasso Sea, but a recurrent great Atlantic Sargassum belt (GASB) has been observed in satellite imagery since 2011, often extending from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. In June 2018, the 8850-kilometer GASB contained >20 million metric tons of Sargassum biomass. The spatial distribution of the GASB is mostly driven by ocean circulation. The bloom of 2011 might be a result of Amazon River discharge in previous years, but recent increases and interannual variability after 2011 appear to be driven by upwelling off West Africa during boreal winter and by Amazon River discharge during spring and summer, indicating a possible regime shift and raising the possibility that recurrent blooms in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea may become the new norm.

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Science, v. 365, issue 6448, p. 83-87