ST. PETERSBURG, FL - Dr. Chuanmin Hu and his PhD student Shaojie Sun discuss their C-IMAGE research. They are optical oceanographers and are using satellite images to track oil from the Deepwater Horizon and IXTOC-I blowouts.
St. Petersburg, Fl - Sargassum spp. is a brown macroalgae that is abundant in the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic. Providing food, shade, and shelter to fish, shrimp, crabs, turtles, and other marine organisms, Sargassum serves as an important habitat in the marine ecosystem. However, excessive Sargassum landing on the beach represents a nuisance and health hazard, which is also a burden to coastal management, local tourism and economy. In 2015, many beaches in the Caribbean and Mexico suffered from Sargassum landing, with numerous news reports on their local impacts. To date, however, no one knows what caused the dramatic increases in Sargassum landing in 2015.
The Optical Oceanography Lab (http://optics.marine.usf.edu) has been tracking Sargassum since 2010 using satellite imagery and numerical models, and has provided near real-time daily imagery on the Web. A recent effort by PhD student Mengqiu Wang led to the findings that the aerial coverage of Sargassum in the central West Atlantic in 2015 is at least 4 times of the coverage in 2011 when major Sargassum landing on the Caribbean beaches were also widely reported. The reasons behind such an increase, however, still remain to be explained.