MIAMI – As tropical storm Isaac was gaining momentum toward the Mississippi River in August 2012, University of Miami (UM) researchers were dropping instruments from the sky above to study the ocean conditions beneath the storm. The newly published study showed how a downwelling of warm waters deepened the storm’s fuel tank for a rapid intensification toward hurricane status. The results also revealed how hurricane-generated currents and ocean eddies can transport oil and other pollutants to coastal regions.
Tropical storms obtain their energy from the ocean waters below. As a storm moves across the Gulf of Mexico, it may interact with an upwelling of cooler waters from the deeper ocean or, in the case of Isaac, a downwelling inside rings of warm water that separated from a warm-water current, called the Loop Current, that moves through the Gulf of Mexico to join with the Gulf Stream along the U.S. East Coast. As the storm moves forward, ocean temperatures are fueling the storm’s intensity.