Skip to content

Stunning image of sediment plumes in Gulf of Mexico

November 14, 2009

This blog has moved to Wired Science (as of Sept 14, 2010)



I was alerted to this image from a reader and also saw it linked to on and just had to share it.

Absolutely beautiful patterns of sediment plumes mixing with each other and surrunding water in the Gulf of Mexico from NASA’s Earth Observatory website. The image was taken last week a few hours after Tropical Storm Ida passed by to the east of here. The waves associated with the storm churned up the sediment on the shelf. The limit of sediment with the dark blue water to the south essentially marks the edge of the continental shelf. Click on the images below, or here, to read more about this image.


Mixing sediment plumes in Gulf of Mexico (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory -

The next image below zooms in a bit on the image showing distinctive brown plumes coming from rivers.


zoomed-in view of mixing sediment plumes in Gulf of Mexico (image credit: NASA Earth Observatory -


I just love looking at the patterns nature produces.

(note: I slightly modified the ‘levels’ of these images in Photoshop to enhance them a bit)

34 Comments leave one →
  1. November 14, 2009 8:46 pm

    These are stunning! I really like the second one, the enlargement with all the swirls. Interesting how the sediment isn’t coming from the Mississippi River delta (to the east), but apparently from a narrow shelf area in Mexicao. But really, I just love the patterns in the enlargement.

  2. November 15, 2009 6:10 pm

    Excellent example of the scale independence of fluid dynamics! Good illustration of the flow of the gulf current, too.

  3. November 23, 2009 9:22 pm

    Beautiful :)

  4. November 30, 2009 1:45 am

    so very nice!

  5. November 30, 2009 3:00 am

    Great pictures – but I wonder how much of it is polluting run off from farming/industrial activities.

    • Dom permalink
      April 16, 2013 8:13 am

      Bingo! Ain’t no beauty there, ’cause that’s pollution yur seeing.

  6. C Pell permalink
    November 30, 2009 7:29 am

    Doesn’t matter how much pollution it is – our waters are dying from toxic chemicals leached off of ship hulls, random spills, dumping, polluted river run off from the main land, over fishing, and the greed and uncaring ways of man kind – we are killing our waters, our world. Pictures like this are going to be the last bit of beauty we have left of it.

  7. Wow permalink
    November 30, 2009 10:32 am

    Amazing picture!

    @ C Pell

    Do you have any idea how vast our oceans are? It will be a long time until they are “dying.” Every generation is so hell-bent on perceiving it as the last, and thus, most important. It’s ridiculous, egocentric, and ignorant.
    I will bundle this mess with global warming mantra. If you do not know, the Earth has tested our species through severe climate changes before. Even without our current technological capabilities, we survived. WE shall again, perhaps not you.
    Another thing I should point out, we are the end-product of nature’s grand design. This is her own doing, at least on this planet.
    Some theories point out the possibility of the universe itself attempting to become self-aware. We may be the segway unto that possibility.

  8. November 30, 2009 11:13 am

    Evet.Yukarıdaki yorumlara katılıyorum.Güzel fakat tehlikeli görüntüler.

  9. Yeah boy! permalink
    November 30, 2009 11:45 am

    Third coast represent!

  10. abby permalink
    November 30, 2009 8:56 pm

    Sedimentaion is bad people, as beautiful as this is, it is caused from poor land use practices like top soil removal, agriculture, grazing, and logging. Wake UP!

    • Dom permalink
      April 16, 2013 8:14 am

      Great point. And there really is no beauty there at all.

  11. December 1, 2009 12:21 am

    @Abby Sedimentation has been occurring for billions of years, is unavoidable if you have an atmosphere and is essential in supplying many oceanic eco systems with nutrients.

  12. lucky permalink
    December 1, 2009 4:54 pm

    I think you should note that this area is a the dead zone in the gulf of mexico where no aquatic life can survive as a result of all the fertilizers and waste from industrial farming in the US. these fertilizers deplete the oxygen levels so much that nothing can be sustained there

  13. December 1, 2009 5:27 pm

    Yes Abby, because we all know that we can just stop growing food and cutting trees for paper! First off, when done right, logging can actually be good for the environment (yes I know, baffling to your pseudo conservationist beliefs), and secondly this was caused by storms, not just poor land ethics.

    and @ C Pell, Seriously? This is why we can’t have nice things. You know absolutely nothing about environmental science. The oceans are FAR from dying.

  14. December 1, 2009 11:28 pm

    I see Jesus!

  15. exploited689 permalink
    December 12, 2009 8:28 am

    That sediment is dirt that the delta needs for survival. People damming up the Mississippi River further north is ruining The delta and making it dangerous for the people who live there. The trees and earth are being shot out into the gulf although it may look pretty what it is doing to a society is not pretty at all it is sad and concerns me.

  16. exploited689 permalink
    December 12, 2009 8:29 am

    It I over flow from the river too. It is spreading and soon other people will have the same effects.

  17. jojo permalink
    December 12, 2009 8:34 am

    Really people. It’s not that we need to make more food for us to eat. We need to stop having so many children! Want to save the planet? 1 child /couple for 5 generations should do it.

  18. Audrey permalink
    December 12, 2009 3:06 pm

    That’s really beautiful, but it isn’t sediment. Its an algal bloom caused by the millions of tons of run-off and toxic fertilizers released into the gulf. It’s called eutrophication, and the result is that those opaque waters become unlivable for any other organisms. The area pictured here is a dead zone. Great picture of a really serious issue affecting a lot of people, economies and ecosystems.

  19. December 12, 2009 3:58 pm

    BrianR: I think you’ve made the big time when political footballs, complete with insults, are being kicked around on your science blog. Congratulations!

  20. December 12, 2009 4:16 pm

    Maybe I should be a bit more constructive here. Do a little Googling, and you can verify all this stuff: Huge increases in nutrients in the Miss. River, mostly as a result of Midwestern farming, and mostly preventable by better, non-radical, sustainable farming practices, have caused an anoxic “Dead Zone” in the Gulf that has decimated fisheries there, and of course the native ecosystems. And the levees and channel alteration on the lower Mississippi do indeed launch sediment into the Gulf and deny it to wetlands, which has resulted in subsidence that has many horrible effects: increased flooding, saltwater intrusion, etc. All well documented and not controversial only in the details for the most part. But it hasn’t got the attention of Fox News yet. There are very good USGS papers on this, and here’s a blog post with a bunch of good links:

  21. December 13, 2009 9:13 am

    Steve, thanks for the info and link. Yeah, to counter someone’s argument above that “sedimentation is bad”, it’s really the *lack* of sedimentation in the delta region that is a big problem.

    My guess is that some of these commenters are doing a ‘drive-by’ so I haven’t really put any effort into replying.

  22. December 13, 2009 4:01 pm

    Audrey says: “That’s really beautiful, but it isn’t sediment”

    You are wrong — it is sediment. As I say in the post, this is from when a tropical storm passed through the area stirring up shelf sediment into these patterns. If it is not sediment then show me an image from a different day (w/out any storm activity) that looks similar to this.

    This isn’t to say that there aren’t problems related to the phenomenon you mention, but that’s not what this image shows.

    (For regular readers wondering what’s going on with this post, it was linked to from the “environmental” section of StumbleUpon)

  23. phawnboy permalink
    January 28, 2010 10:46 pm

    I agree BrianR it is sediment! doubters should look into storm wave base and the energy requirements for sediment suspension on a shelf. Think about how a tropical storm would affect these. Also look at the orientation of flow of sediment and its relation to the shape of the coast and the dominant gulf current (the loop current): this clearly has nothing to do with the Mississippi. An algal bloom would not be this well established right after a tropical storm.

    It sure is cute how people yap when they are full of shit! Nice pic BrianR

  24. Tay permalink
    March 30, 2010 12:45 pm

    I just found this blog and don’t know if I’ll come across it again during my research, but the picture is beautiful. I don’t really know if the cause is good, bad or indifferent, but I don’t think there’s any denying the great picture. So, thanks for posting the picture. I don’t know how you stay sane reading all the insane comments on your blog. I find it annoying to no end how extremist some people can be.


  1. uberVU - social comments
  2. This is what hurricanes do to the gulf of mexico « danielsaltman
  3. barrygoodknight » Blog Archive » Awesome space pictures
  4. Awesome space pictures « mahlilblog
  5. This is what hurricanes do to the gulf of mexico « Barry Goodknight
  6. aaadviagurl » Blog Archive » This is what hurricanes do to the gulf of mexico
  7. Awesome space pictures « Amanda McNall
  8. Mah LiL Blog » Blog Archive » Cool pictures of the gulf after recent hurricane

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: