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Free Content Evolution of the Tortugas Gyre and its Influence on Recruitment in the Florida Keys

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Moored current measurements, satellite-tracked drifters, shipboard hydrography and a time sequence of satellite derived surface thermal images are used to show the formation and evolution of cold, cyclonic gyres coupled to large offshore meanders of the Florida Current in the southern Straits of Florida (SSF). Gyre formation is dependent upon the orientation of the Loop Current as it enters the SSE With a well developed Loop Current the flow overshoots the entry to the SSF causing the formation of a cold recirculation off the Dry Tortugas, approximately 200 km in size, that persists over time scales of about 100 days. The demise of the gyre occurs as it moves to the east at about 5 km·d−1, reducing to half its original size off Big Pine and Marathon Keys and unobservable off the northern keys. Previously observed local gyres between Key West and Islamorada, FL (Lee et al., 1992) are identified as a latter stage in the downstream evolution of the gyres formed off the Tortugas. When the Loop Current is not developed, flow from the Yucatan Channel turns anticyclonically into the SSF, causing strong eastward flow over the slope off the Dry Tortugas and lower Florida Keys, and gyre formation does not occur. Gyre formation provides enhanced food supply, retention and shoreward transports for successful recruitment in the western and lower Florida Keys of locally spawned snapper and grouper larvae. A previously unknown potential retention area for larval invertebrates and fish on the southwest Florida shelf has been identified from a satellite tracked drifter trajectory, and a local lobster recruitment pathway combining advective influences from the Tortugas gyre, Loop Current and shelf circulation are proposed.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1994-05-01

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  • The Bulletin of Marine Science is dedicated to the dissemination of high quality research from the world's oceans. All aspects of marine science are treated by the Bulletin of Marine Science, including papers in marine biology, biological oceanography, fisheries, marine affairs, applied marine physics, marine geology and geophysics, marine and atmospheric chemistry, and meteorology and physical oceanography.
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