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Science Meetings

Aquarius and SMOS Detect Effects of an Extreme Mississippi River Flooding Event in the Gulf of Mexico
Gierach, M.M., Vazquez-Cuervo, J., Lee, T., and Tsontos, V.M. (13-Nov-13)

Sea surface salinity (SSS) measurements from the Aquarius/SAC-D satellite and the SMOS mission were used to document the freshening associated with the record 2011 Mississippi River flooding event in the Gulf of Mexico (GoM). Assessment of the salinity response was aided by additional satellite observations, including MODIS chlorophyll-a (chl-a) and ocean surface currents, and a passive tracer simulation. Low SSS values associated with the spreading of the river plume were observed 1-3 months after peak river discharge which then receded and became unidentifiable from satellite observations 5 months after maximum discharge. The seasonal wind pattern and general circulation of the GoM dramatically impacted the observed salinity response, transporting freshwater eastward along the Gulf coast and entraining low salinity waters into the open GoM. The observed salinity response from Aquarius was consistent with SMOS SSS, chl-a concentrations, and the passive tracer simulation in terms of the pathway and transit time of the river plume spreading. This study is the first successful application of satellite SSS to study salinity variation in marginal seas.