Gulf of Mexico Loop Current

The Gulf of Mexico Circulation and Currents:

Water enters the Gulf through the Yucatan Strait, circulates as the Loop Current, and exits through the Florida Strait eventually forming the Gulf Stream. Portions of the Loop Current often break away forming eddies or ‘gyres’ which affect regional current patterns. Smaller wind driven and tidal currents are created in nearshore environments. Drainage into the Gulf of Mexico is extensive, covering more than 60% of the United States, and includes outlets from 33 major river systems and 207 estuaries. Additional freshwater inputs originate in Mexico, the Yucatan Peninsula, and Cuba.




A parent to the Florida Current, the Loop Current is a warm ocean current that flows northward between Cuba and the Yucatán Peninsula, moves north into the Gulf of Mexico, loops east and south before exiting to the east through the Florida Straits and joining the Gulf Stream. Serving as the dominant circulation feature in the Eastern Gulf of Mexico, the Loop Currents transports between 23 and 27 sverdrups and reaches maximum flow speeds of 1.5 to 1.8 meters/second.

A related feature is an area of warm water with an “eddy” or “Loop Current ring” that separates from the Loop Current, somewhat randomly every 3 to 17 months. Swirling at 1.8 to 2 meters/second, these rings drift to the west at speeds of 2 to 5 kilometers/day and have a lifespan of up to a year before they bump into the coast of Texas or Mexico. These eddies are composed of warm Caribbean waters and possess physical properties that isolate the masses from surrounding Gulf Common Waters. The rings can measure 200 to 400 kilometers in diameter and extend down to a depth of 1000 meters.

The Loop Current and its eddies may be detected by measuring sea surface level. Sea surface level of both the eddies and the Loop on September 21, 2005 was up to 60 cm (24 in) higher than surrounding water, indicating a deep area of warm water beneath them. On that day, Hurricane Rita passed over the Loop current and intensified into a Category 5 storm with the help of the warm water.

In the Gulf of Mexico, the deepest areas of warm water are associated with the Loop Current and the rings of current that have separated from the Loop Current are commonly called Loop Current eddies. The warm waters of the Loop Current and its associated eddies provide more energy to hurricanes and allow them to intensify.