Estuaries and Coasts

, Volume 38, Issue 6, pp 2310–2322 | Cite as

Assessing Cold-Snap and Mortality Events in South Florida Coastal Ecosystems: Development of a Biological Cold Stress Index Using Satellite SST and Weather Pattern Forcing

  • Douglas E. PirhallaEmail author
  • Scott C. Sheridan
  • Varis Ransibrahmanakul
  • Cameron C. Lee


Water temperature is considered both a controlling and lethal factor in coastal ecosystems, influencing behavioral and physiological responses in marine organisms. Abrupt weather events such as severe cold front passages and accompanied changes in weather conditions have led to sharp decreases in water temperatures, metabolic stress, and incidences of mortality in marine organisms. In this paper, we assess the weather-related factors associated with physical and biological response in South Florida systems through historical sea surface temperature (SST) from satellites and the use of a synoptic climatology spanning over 30 years. We utilize previous categorizations of sea-level pressure and newly developed categorizations of 850-mb temperature reanalysis data to define circulation and temperature patterns across the southeastern US and adjacent Gulf of Mexico. Systematic connections are seen between particular circulation and temperature patterns characteristic of enhanced north-to-south circulation and cold air outbreaks, SST, and turtle strandings data over the Florida Panhandle region for the period 2006–2013. Identified weather forcing variables associated with sharp SST decreases and turtle stuns are presented and assist in the formulation of a moving cold-stress index for South Florida coastal ecosystems. Results demonstrate the potential of using synoptic climatological analysis and derived indices for tracking and modeling changes in SST and other indicators related to biological health.


Sea surface temperature Cold-snap mortality events Synoptic climatology Atmospheric circulation Florida Blended microwave/IR SST 



We thank the personnel at the Remote Sensing Systems, Inc., data processing group, for making the blended microwave-infrared SST products available; NOAAs National Oceanographic Data Center Satellite Oceanography Team for providing consistent Pathfinder SST data products; and NOAAs Earth System Research Laboratory, Physical Sciences Division, for providing up-to-date gridded NCEP North American Regional Reanalysis products. We thank Karsten Shein of the National Climatic Data Center for providing up-to-date in situ climatological data for multiple South Florida stations. We acknowledge and appreciate the input of Kelsey Roberts of the University of South Florida during manuscript development. Funding support for the study was provided by NOAA’s National Center for Coastal Ocean Science. Last of all, we would like to pay kind tribute and dedication to Doug Pirhalla’s father, Joseph William Pirhalla, who passed away on November 3, 2013, for providing Doug with strength and inspiration during the entire writing process, and throughout life. His hugs and kind-hearted words are within his loved ones hearts, now and forever.


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Copyright information

© Coastal and Estuarine Research Federation (outside the USA) 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  • Douglas E. Pirhalla
    • 1
    Email author
  • Scott C. Sheridan
    • 2
  • Varis Ransibrahmanakul
    • 1
  • Cameron C. Lee
    • 2
  1. 1.National Center for Coastal Ocean ScienceNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationSilver SpringUSA
  2. 2.Department of GeographyKent State UniversityKentUSA

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