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Lohrenz, SE, Cai, WJ, Chen, XG, Tuel, M (2008). Satellite assessment of bio-optical properties of northern Gulf of Mexico coastal waters following hurricanes Katrina and Rita. SENSORS, 8(7), 4135-4150.

The impacts of major tropical storms events on coastal waters include sediment resuspension, intense water column mixing, and increased delivery of terrestrial materials into coastal waters. We examined satellite imagery acquired by the Moderate Resolution Imaging Spectroradiometer (MODIS) ocean color sensor aboard the Aqua spacecraft following two major hurricane events: Hurricane Katrina, which made landfall on 29 August 2005, and Hurricane Rita, which made landfall on 24 September. MODIS Aqua true color imagery revealed high turbidity levels in shelf waters immediately following the storms indicative of intense resuspension. However, imagery following the landfall of Katrina showed relatively rapid return of shelf water mass properties to pre-storm conditions. Indeed, MODIS Aqua-derived estimates of diffuse attenuation at 490 nm (K_490) and chlorophyll (chlor_a) from mid-August prior to the landfall of Hurricane Katrina were comparable to those observed in mid-September following the storm. Regions of elevated K_490 and chlor_a were evident in offshore waters and appeared to be associated with cyclonic circulation (cold-core eddies) identified on the basis of sea surface height anomaly (SSHA). Imagery acquired shortly after Hurricane Rita made landfall showed increased water column turbidity extending over a large area of the shelf off Louisiana and Texas, consistent with intense resuspension and sediment disturbance. An interannual comparison of satellite-derived estimates of K_490 for late September and early October revealed relatively lower levels in 2005, compared to the mean for the prior three years, in the vicinity of the Mississippi River birdfoot delta. In contrast, levels above the previous three year mean were observed off Texas and Louisiana 7-10 d after the passage of Rita. The lower values of K_490 near the delta could be attributed to relatively low river discharge during the preceding months of the 2005 season. The elevated levels off Texas and Louisiana were speculated to be due to the presence of fine grain sediment or dissolved materials that remained in the water column following the storm, and may also have been associated with enhanced phytoplankton biomass stimulated by the intense vertical mixing and offshore delivery of shelf water and associated nutrients. This latter view was supported by observations of high chlor_a in association with regions of cyclonic circulation.



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