Part B: The Loop Current

The Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico. The orange color shows the warmer water of the current and arrows show the direction.
One current of special importance for hurricanes is in the Gulf of Mexico. Like the Gulf Stream, the Loop Current is a warm water current that contains considerable heat energy. In this section, you'll watch a brief animation of the Loop Current. You'll then use the NOAA View Data Exploration Tool to examine the Loop Current using recent data to help you visualize how the current delivers heat to the Gulf of Mexico.

  1. View this brief animation, made up of 18 separate images of colored satellite heat data. Use the color key at the top of the animation to help determine the ocean temperature. Focus on interpreting the current as a supply of heat energy to the Gulf of Mexico.
    Gulf of Mexico's Loop Current
  2. Next, visit the NOAA View Data Exploration Tool opens in new window The link should take you to the Sea Surface Temperature data map.
  3. Zoom in to the Gulf of Mexico so that you can see the same area of ocean you saw in the earlier animation.
  4. On the left panel, click Weekly Data to see the data as weekly data averages, and use the date slider to back the map data up to at least a year from current data. Then click the box labeled Data Values – this will allow you to use your mouse to view the temperature where your mouse hovers on the data map.
  5. Then hit the play button and watch at least a full year of the current. It may take a few minutes to play smoothly, but watch how the warmer water moves within the Gulf of Mexico. Next, slide the starting date to sometime around January of 2005 and watch how the Loop Current changes through the year. Take note of how it compares to the year you looked at and how it compares to the earlier animation.

Checking In Questions

  • Consider the three forms of visual data - the image, the color animation, and the NOAA animation. What are some benefits of using one instead of the others? Do you get a better sense of what's happening by using all three?