Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin that is largely surrounded by the continent North America and the island of Cuba. It’s bordered on the northeast, north, and northwest by the Gulf Coast of the United States, towards the southwest and south by Mexico, and towards the southeast by Cuba. It’s often referred to as the “Third Coast” in Texas and Louisiana, in comparison with the U.S. Pacific and Atlantic Coasts. The shape of its basin is more or less, an oval and is about 1,500 kilometers in width and filled with sedimentary rocks and debris. It’s connected to the Atlantic Ocean via the Florida Straits between the U.S. and Cuba, and with the Caribbean Sea by means of the Yucatan Channel between Cuba and Mexico. With this narrow connection to the Atlantic, the Gulf sees some very small tidal ranges. The size of the Gulf basin is about 1.6 million square kilometers. Nearly half of the basin is shallow continental shelf waters. It reaches its maximum depth as Sigsbee Deep at 4,384 miles deep, an irregular trough more than 560 kilometers in length. It contains a volume of about 660 quadrillion gallons. It was created about 300 million years ago due to plate tectonics.

The Gulf of Mexico’s northern, northwestern, and eastern shores lie along the US states of Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana, Florida, and Texas. The US part of the Gulf coastline spans an approximate 2,700 kilometers, taking in water from 33 major rivers that drain 31 states. The southern and southwestern shores of the Gulf lie along the Mexican states of Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Tabasco, Yucatan, Campeche, and the northernmost point of Quintana Roo. The Mexican part of the Gulf coastline spans an approximate 1,743 miles. On the southeast portion, the Gulf is bordered by Cuba. It supports major American, Cuban and Mexican fishing industries. The outer boundaries of the wide continental shelves of Yucatan and Florida acquire cooler, nutrient-enriched waters from the deep by a process known as upwelling, which encourages plankton growth within the euphotic zone. This draws in fish, squid, and shrimp. River drainage and atmospheric fallout from the industrial coastal cities provide nutrients to the coastal zone as well.

Image Caption: Sediment-laden water pours into the northern Gulf of Mexico from the Atchafalaya River in this photo-like image. Credit: Norman Kuring/Wikipedia