Loop current mixed layer energy response to Hurricane Lili (2002). Part I: Observations

Eric W. Uhlhorn, Lynn K. Shay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

25 Scopus citations


The ocean mixed layer response to a tropical cyclone within and immediately adjacent to the Gulf of Mexico Loop Current is examined. In the first of a two-part study, a comprehensive set of temperature, salinity, and current profiles acquired from aircraft-deployed expendable probes is utilized to analyze the three-dimensional oceanic energy evolution in response to Hurricane Lili's (2002) passage. Mixed layer temperature analyses show that the Loop Current cooled ,<°C in response to the storm, in contrast to typically observed larger decreases of 3°-5°C. Correspondingly, vertical current shear associated with mixed layer currents, which is responsible for entrainment mixing of cooler water, was found to be up to 50% weaker, on average, than observed in previous studies within the directly forced region. The Loop Current, which separates the warmer, lighter Caribbean Subtropical Water from the cooler, heavier Gulf Common Water, was found to decrease in intensity by -0.18 ± 0.25 m s -1 over an approximately 10-day period within the mixed layer. Contrary to previous ocean response studies, which have assumed approximately horizontally homogeneous ocean structure prior to storm passage, a kinetic energy loss of 5.8 ± 6.4 kJ m -2, or approximately -1 wind stress-scaled energy unit, was observed. By examining near-surface currents derived from satellite altimetry data, the Loop Current is found to vary similarly in magnitude over such time scales, suggesting storm-generated energy is rapidly removed by the preexisting Loop Current. In a future study, the simulated mixed layer evolution to a Hurricane Lili-like storm within an idealized preexisting baroclinic current is analyzed to help understand the complex air-sea interaction and resulting energetic response.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)400-419
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2012


  • Atmosphere-ocean interaction
  • Tropical cyclones

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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