The great Atlantic Sargassum belt

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Science  05 Jul 2019:
Vol. 365, Issue 6448, pp. 83-87
DOI: 10.1126/science.aaw7912

The biggest bloom

Floating mats of Sargassum seaweed in the center of the North Atlantic were first reported by Christopher Columbus in the 15th century. These mats, although abundant, have until recently been limited and discontinuous. However, Wang et al. report that, since 2011, the mats have increased in density and aerial extent to generate a 8850-kilometer-long belt that extends from West Africa to the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico (see the Perspective by Gower and King). This represents the world's largest macroalgal bloom. Such recurrent blooms may become the new normal.

Science, this issue p. 83; see also p. 27


Pelagic Sargassum is abundant in the Sargasso Sea, but a recurrent great Atlantic Sargassum belt (GASB) has been observed in satellite imagery since 2011, often extending from West Africa to the Gulf of Mexico. In June 2018, the 8850-kilometer GASB contained >20 million metric tons of Sargassum biomass. The spatial distribution of the GASB is mostly driven by ocean circulation. The bloom of 2011 might be a result of Amazon River discharge in previous years, but recent increases and interannual variability after 2011 appear to be driven by upwelling off West Africa during boreal winter and by Amazon River discharge during spring and summer, indicating a possible regime shift and raising the possibility that recurrent blooms in the tropical Atlantic and Caribbean Sea may become the new norm.

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