Our First ever Science Symposium!

Our First ever Science Symposium!

    On October 25th, MEC partner the Florida Institute of Oceanography hosted the inaugural Florida Marine Science Symposium at the FWC Fish and Wildlife Research Institute! This event brought speakers from all over Florida to discuss their current research projects. The symposium opened with sessions on Hurricane Irma’s impact to Florida’s coastal habitats. A colleague from Tom Moore’s NOAA Coral office surveyed coral reefs and nurseries, some of which lost 100% of their nursery stock. What they also found was a large number of sponges that were clogged from the sedimentation that Irma brought along with her strong currents. The NOAA office estimates that all 400,000 of registered lobster traps in the Keys are now marine debris.

    The rest of the symposium was divided into a morning and afternoon session, each with two separate talks happening simultaneously. Holly Greening told participants about her research in valuating, or assigning economic value to, Tampa Bay. The Bay was declared biologically dead in the 1970s by many environmental agencies, but decades-long restoration projects have risen its value to $22 billion dollars per year. This number includes the dollars that recreation, tourism, and commercial fishing bring in because of the now healthy watershed.

    Dr. Dean Grubbs of Florida State University spoke in the afternoon about his research in elasmobranch ecology. He began with facts about species found in coastal Florida and in the depths of the Gulf of Mexico. While most of his work is based in Florida, he has had a huge part in efforts to reduce consumption of the threatened cownose ray in the Chesapeake Bay. He’s also been a pioneer in smalltooth sawfish research and showed us video of him observing the first documented live sawfish birth!

    These three were just some of the wonderful presentations at the inaugural Marine Science Symposium. We hope to see just as many quality research projects at next year’s Symposium!

Horizons at Marine Exploration Center

Horizons at Marine Exploration Center

We are so thankful for our friends and supporters who came out to our Horizons Event on November 17th, 2017 for an exciting night of learning.

Thanks to our speakers from the “Beneath the Horizons” documentary science team including Patrick Schwing, David Hollander, Isable Romero, and Amy Wallace who lead us through their newest installment and spoke on the lasting impacts of the Deepwater Horizons Oil Spill. 

The Marine Exploration Center is so grateful to all who attended our event and remain inspired and involved as we continue our work in research and conservation. 

For those who could not attend but want to donate to the Marine Exploration Center to help continue our research visit https://givedaytampabay.razoo.com/organization/Pier-Aquarium

Hurricane Irma Storm Surge in Tampa Bay

Hurricane Irma Storm Surge in Tampa Bay

Hurricane Irma caused only a minimal storm surge in Tampa Bay.  Storm surge is the difference between predicted (or astronomical) tidal water level and the observed or actual water level (called storm tide) and is what causes the majority of damage in a land falling hurricane.  In relatively shallow coastal waters like those of the Tampa Bay region, wind blowing across the water surface drags water in the direction of the wind.  If it piles up against the coastline, it causes a storm surge.  We operate a network of water level gauges and wind measurement sites around the bay in cooperation with the NOAA National Ocean Service called the Tampa Bay Physical Oceanographic Real Time System (TBPORTS; see http://tbports.org/).  Here is what our observations from TBPORTS tell us about the surge from Irma.

As Irma approached the southwest coast of Florida, forecasters were unsure if the center of the storm would stay just offshore or would move inland.  The predictions of storm surge at that time assumed a worst case scenario where the eye of the storm stayed just offshore of Tampa Bay, with possible storm surge of 8 to 12 feet above predicted tide or 5 to 9 feet above ground level.  Had that happened, Tampa Bay would have been devastated.  Fortunately for us, the storm moved inland and weakened quickly once it went over land.  The eye of the storm tracked well to the east of the bay.  By the time that the eye of the storm passed to our north and winds backed to the west (about 5 am EDT), we were only seeing 30 to 34 knot sustained wind speeds from the WNW with gusts to just under 40 knots.  By 10 am the winds were 25 to 28 knots from 280 degrees true (WNW) with occasional gusts to 32 knots.  By 5 pm wind speeds were less than 20 knots, still from W to WNW.  The wind never went south of west.  If the wind had come from the southwest, the surge would have been greater, as wind would be pushing water straight up the bay.  The storm also moved quickly through the area so that the winds didn't have time to push as much water toward the coast and up the bay.  For comparison, in Hurricane Francis in 2004, the eye of the storm stalled just to the northwest of the bay region and we saw sustained winds of 50+ knots from the southwest for something like 12 to 18 hours.  That drove a surge of about 6 ft. into the St. Petersburg area (flooding my garage) and an even larger surge into downtown Tampa.  

The most striking aspect of the storm surge from Irma in the bay was the large negative surge seen as the storm approached.  Strong winds from the east to northeast pushed water out of the bay, leading to water levels in the northern parts of the bay that were over 6 feet lower than the predicted tide level.  As soon as the winds began to turn from the north, current began flowing out of the bay, as measured at our current profiler in the ship channel near the entrance to Port Manatee.  In Irma, the strongest wind speed from the north at our mid-bay site was 56 knots from 14 degrees true (NNE) gusting to 65 knots.  Those NE to N winds drove the water out of the bay as expected.  That factor may have delayed the return of water into the bay but not by much.  Water flows down hill pretty fast.  In the plots below, you see that the current begins flowing back into the bay and the water level rises to predicted tide level very quickly as soon as the wind turns west of north, and then first goes above predicted water level at 4 am at the Port Manatee gauge.  Maximum storm surge occurred at Port Manatee of 2.17 ft at 11:18 am, at Old Port Tampa (south of Gandy Bridge) of 2.35 ft at 11:54 am, at St. Petersburg of 2.17 ft at 12:36 pm, and at McKay Bay (Port of Tampa) of 3.08 ft at 1:24 pm, all very nearly coincident with low tide. If the maximum surge had occurred at or near high tide, coastal flooding would have been greater by 2 to 2.5 feet.  

We were very lucky to have escaped major damage. 

Check out some statistics from the storm below. 


Excerpts from data tables:

************************      PRELIMINARY DATA************************** 

       CD   -   Calendar date

       T-   Time

       TZ   -   Timezone

       PW   -   Predicted water level (feet above MLLW)

       OW   -   Observed water level (feet above MLLW)

       WS   -   Wind speed (knots)

       WD   -   Wind direction (degrees true)

       WG   -   Wind gust (knots)

       AT   -   Air temperature (degrees farenheit)

       WT   -   Water temperature (degrees farenheit)

       AP   -   Air pressure (millibars)


       ** NOTE **

       A variable that has its data fields filled with "9"s, indicates that

       data was not collected for that sample period.




STATION NAME: Port Manatee (8726384)


    CD       TTZPW     OWWS   WD   WGATWTAP    


Max negative surge (-3.7 ft):

2017/09/10 18:00 EDT2.01-1.69 -999 -999 -99973.975.6990.5

Water level first exceeds predicted:

2017/09/11 04:00 EDT2.39   2.41 -999 -999 -99975.477.5981.2

Max storm tide:

2017/09/11 07:36 EDT1.76   3.18 -999 -999 -99975.777.4994.1

Max storm surge (2.17 ft, coincident with low tide):

2017/09/11 11:18 EDT0.58   2.75 -999 -999 -99975.777.2 1000.6


STATION NAME: St. Petersburg (8726520)


    CD       TTZPW     OWWS   WD   WGATWTAP    


Gauge bottomed-out; surge of -4.51

2017/09/10 17:42 EDT2.05-2.46   22   28   3975.281.9995.7

Water level first exceeds predicted:

2017/09/11 06:30 EDT2.39   2.40   23268   3271.879.5990.5

Max storm tide (1.62 ft surge):

2017/09/11 18:36 EDT1.81   3.43   13278   1678.879.9 1004.5

Max storm surge (2.17 ft, coincident with low tide):

2017/09/11 12:36 EDT0.48   2.65   23246   2977.779.0 1001.7

Data missing from 2017/09/11 20:42 EDT to 2017/09/12 07:24 EDT


STATION NAME: Mckay Bay Entrance (8726667)


    CD       TTZPW     OWWS   WD   WGATWTAP    


Max negative surge (-6.14 ft):

2017/09/10 21:54 EDT1.42-4.72 -999 -999 -999 -99.983.3 -999.9

Water level first exceeds predicted:

2017/09/11 05:18 EDT2.87   2.98 -999 -999 -999 -99.982.0 -999.9

Max storm tide (2.1 ft surge):

2017/09/11 17:24 EDT1.97   4.07 -999 -999 -999 -99.981.3 -999.9

Max storm surge (3.08 ft, coincident with low tide):

2017/09/11 13:24 EDT0.50   3.58 -999 -999 -999 -99.981.1 -999.9


STATION NAME: Old Port Tampa (8726607)


    CD       TTZPW     OWWS   WD   WGATWTAP    


Gauge bottomed-out; surge of -5.46

2017/09/10 18:00 EDT2.32-3.14   31   16   4075.077.5994.6

Water level first exceeds predicted:

2017/09/11 07:24 EDT2.60   2.68   27249   3274.378.4992.6

Max storm tide (1.75 ft surge):

2017/09/11 09:42 EDT1.63   3.38   24244   3176.578.3998.5

Max storm surge (2.35 ft, coincident with low tide):

2017/09/11 11:54 EDT0.77   3.12   22237   2776.879.3 1001.5

Currents in Main Ship Channel at MTB

Current began to ebb (flow out of the bay):

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 6.25.39 PM.png


Max Ebb velocities (knots):

Screen Shot 2017-09-15 at 6.26.36 PM.png