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Satellite measurements of sea surface cooling during hurricane Gloria


Hurricanes and other strong storms can cause important decreases in sea surface temperature by means of vertical mixing within the upper ocean, and by air–sea heat exchange. Here we use satellite-derived infrared images of the western North Atlantic to study sea surface cooling caused by hurricane Gloria (1985). Significant regional variations in sea surface cooling are well correlated with hydrographic conditions. The greatest cooling (up to 5°C) occurred in slope waters north of the Gulf Stream where the seasonal thermocline is shallowest and most compressed; moderate cooling (up to 3 °C) occurred in the open Sargasso Sea where the thermocline is deeper and more diffused; little or no cooling occurred in shallow coastal waters (bottom depth less than 20 m) which were isothermal before the passage of hurricane Gloria. There is a pronounced right-side asymmetry of sea surface cooling with stronger (by a factor of 4) and more extensive (by a factor of 3) cooling found on the right side of the hurricane track. These qualitative results are consistent with the notion that vertical mixing within the upper ocean is the dominant sea surface cooling mechanism of hurricanes.

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Cornillon, P., Stramma, L. & Price, J. Satellite measurements of sea surface cooling during hurricane Gloria. Nature 326, 373–375 (1987).

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