Marine & Environmental Sciences Faculty Articles

An Empirically Validated Method for Characterizing Pelagic Habitats in the Gulf of Mexico Using Ocean Model Data

Document Type


Publication Date


Publication Title

Limnology and Oceanography: Methods



First Page


Last Page



Mesoscale oceanic features such as eddies generate considerable environmental heterogeneity within the pelagic oceans, but their transient nature makes it difficult to identify both their spatial and temporal extent and their effects on the distribution of pelagic fauna. Simplifying these complex features using a biologically meaningful classification system will likely be a useful first step in understanding the extent of their influence in structuring open‐ocean ecosystems. In this study, we present a tool to classify the pelagic environment in the Gulf of Mexico using sea‐surface height and temperature‐at‐depth data from the 1/25° GOM HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM). Three “water types” were identified: Loop Current‐origin water (LCOW), Gulf common water (CW), and mixed (MIX) water, where the latter represents an intermediate state during the degradation of LCOW to CW. The HYCOM‐derived classifications were validated against in situ CTD data and microbial samples collected through 2015–2016 by the Deep Pelagic Nekton Dynamics of the Gulf of Mexico (DEEPEND) consortium. The validation data comprised classifications derived from both temperature‐depth (TD) and temperature‐salinity (TS) profiles and from microbial community analyses from the surface to mesopelagic depths. The HYCOM classifications produced an overall agreement rate of 77% with the TS/TD classifications, and 79% with the microbial classifications. With applicability across a wide range of spatial and temporal scales, we believe that the system provides a useful, complementary tool for biological oceanographers and resource managers interested in better understanding the effects of major mesoscale features on the pelagic biota.


©2019 Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography


0000-0002-5280-7071, 0000-0002-8296-4780



This document is currently not available here.

Peer Reviewed

Find in your library