Tracking sargassum – from the tropical Atlantic to Caribbean beaches

Robert Marsh (University of Southampton) & co-authors

Image 1: Locations offshore of virtual sargassum mats, just prior to beaching (following Marsh et al. 2021), indicating the surface currents and winds that drive sargassum drift; the inset photo of sargassum beached at Jamaica is shown with permission of Ava Maxam (MGI)

Sargassum seaweed proliferating across the tropical Atlantic since 2011 has a particular destination – windward beaches of the Caribbean. The arrival of sargassum spans spring to late summer, with peak inundations progressively later in the season as we move from east to west. The sargassum drifts with westward surface currents, assisted by persistent trade winds. Year-to-year changes in sargassum growth, currents and winds lead to wide variations in quantities and locations of beached sargassum. Through SARTRAC, we have developed a forecast system to track the sargassum identified in satellite images, predicting the quantities arriving at targeted locations, up to 6 months in advance. One such location is Jamaica, where sargassum typically arrives from mid-summer. Another location is Ghana, on the other side of the Atlantic, where sargassum currently arrives in smaller quantities. These predictions are part of a wider early warning system, to better prepare communities throughout the region for the arrival of sargassum throughout the spring and summer. As we learn more about the biology and drift of sargassum, we will refine our forecasts, while extending the system for more efficient communication and utility.

Our forecast system is fully described and tested in Marsh et al. (2021)

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