Gulf of Mexico research cruise: Studying the Loop Current

June 14, 2021

Words and photos by GSO Ph.D. student Ali Johnson.

A team of five GSO scientists recently returned from a two-week long research cruise in the Gulf of Mexico aboard the R/V Pelican. The purpose of the cruise was to retrieve an array of 24 Current and Pressure recording Inverted Echo Sounders (C-PIES) that have been operating on the seafloor of the Gulf of Mexico for the past two years. 

The research cruise is part of an ongoing project, funded by the National Academies of Sciences Gulf Research Program, to increase understanding of the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current eddy separation process, with a long term goal of advancing Loop Current forecasting efforts. The ability to better forecast the Loop Current has implications for a wide range of human and natural systems, including oil and gas operations, storm and hurricane intensity, coastal ecosystems, and industries such as fishing and tourism. Specifically, the observations collected by the URI C-PIES group will be used to study the interaction between the Loop Current and bottom topography as a potential trigger for Loop Current eddy separation. 

Along with near bottom velocity, bottom pressure and temperature, C-PIES are instruments that measure sound speed by sending an acoustic pulse to the sea surface and recording the amount of time it takes for the pulse to return to the seafloor. The acoustic travel time provides an estimate of the temperature and salinity structure in the water column every ten minutes. The team was successful in recovering the instruments, deploying four profiling floats and collecting 16 onsite temperature and salinity profiles.