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Monthly climatologies of near‐surface phytoplankton pigment concentration and sea surface temperature (SST) were derived for the Gulf of Mexico from multiyear series of coastal zone color scanner (CZCS) (November 1978 to November 1985) and advanced very high resolution radiometer (AVHRR) (January 1983 to December 1987) images. We complement these series with SST from the comprehensive ocean‐atmosphere data set (1946–1987) and Climate Analysis Center (1982–1990), and hydrographic profile data from the NOAA National Oceanographic Data Center (1914–1985). The CZCS ocean color satellite data provide the first climatological time series of phytoplankton concentration for the region. The CZCS images show that seasonal variation in pigment concentration seaward of the shelf is synchronous throughout the gulf, with highest values ( > 0.18 mg m−3) in December to February and lowest values (∼0.06 mg m−3) in May to July. Variation in SST is also synchronous throughout the gulf, with maxima in July to September and minima in February to March, The amplitude of the SST variation in the western gulf is about twice that observed in the eastern gulf, and SST maxima and minima persist longer in the west. Larger amplitudes in SST variation are also observed toward the margins. While annual cycles of SST and pigment concentrations are out of phase relative to each other, the phases of mixed layer depth change and pigment concentration change are similar. Model simulations suggest that the single most important factor controlling the seasonal cycle in surface pigment concentration is the depth of the mixed layer. The combined use of ocean color and infrared images permits year‐round observation of spatial structure of the surface circulation in the gulf and the pattern of dispersal of the Mississippi River plume. Infrared images are most useful between November and mid‐May, when strong SST gradients occur. During this time, pigment concentrations are high and can be horizontally homogeneous. In contrast, between late May and October, SST fields are uniform, but the Loop Current and large anticyclonic eddies could be traced with the CZCS. Three anticyclonic eddies were observed in 1979, and at least two were observed in 1980. No eddies were observed during summers of subsequent years in the CZCS time series, but this may be a result of the dramatic decrease in the satellite sampling rate. The series of color images showed that small parcels of Mississippi River water were frequently (2–4 times a year) entrained in the cyclonic edge of the Loop Current, stretched along the Current, and carried to the southeast along the western Florida shelf. However, most of the Mississippi River water flowed to the west, following the Louisiana‐Texas coast as far south as the Mexico‐United States border. Here, a persistent cyclone may reside, exporting shelf constituents to deeper regions of the gulf.

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Journal of Geophysical Research, v. 96, issue C7, p. 12645-12665

Copyright 1991 by the American Geophysical Union.