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Gulf of Mexico

Gulf of Mexico

The Gulf of Mexico is a unique, semi-enclosed sea located between the Yucatan and Florida peninsulas, at the southeast shores of the United States. The Gulf of Mexico borders five of the 50 United States (Alabama, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas), and also Cuba and the eastern part of Mexico. Sometimes it is also called America's Sea. The Straits of Florida divides the Gulf from the Atlantic Ocean, while the Yucatan Channel separates it from the Caribbean Sea. The Gulf of Mexico covers more than 600,000 mi2 (almost 1.5 million km2), and in some areas its depth reaches 12,000 ft (3660m), where it is called Sigsbee Deep, or the "Grand Canyon under the sea." About two-thirds of the contiguous United States (31 states between the Rocky Mountains and the Appalachian Mountains) belongs to the watershed area of the Gulf of Mexico, while it receives freshwater from 33 major river systems, and many small rivers , creeks, and streams. This watershed area covers a little less than two million mi2(almost 5 million km2).

The currents in the Gulf of Mexico form a complex system. Its dominant feature is the Caribbean Current, coming from the warm Caribbean Sea by the Yucatan Channel, meandering around in the Gulf, then leaving through the Straits of Florida. Together with the Antilles Current, the Caribbean Current forms the Gulf Stream . The Gulf of Mexico has tides (the ocean waters' response to the Moon's and Sun's gravitational pull) of normally 2 ft (0.6 m) or less.

According to the modified Trewartha climate system, most of the Gulf Coast area is in the subtropical climate region with a summer precipitation maximum. The southern tip of the Yucatan Peninsula belongs to the savanna climate, and between the subtropical and the savanna lies a small area of tropical dry savanna. The hurricane season is between June and November, when hurricanes from the Atlantic Ocean, the Caribbean Sea, or the Gulf of Mexico can damage the Gulf shore, and beyond it. These hurricanes also help to balance the salinity of the water , while also moderating the atmosphere. The Gulf of Mexico plays an important role as a fuel injector for hurricanes before landfall, since major hurricanes are rapidly intensified by passing over deep and warm water.

The Gulf of Mexico has several environmental quality problems originating either from natural processes, or from anthropogenic pollution, or their combination. The problems range from erosion , and topsoil washing from the land into the Gulf, to oil spills and hazardous material spills, or trash washing ashore. These problems not only affect the estuaries, wetlands, and water quality in the Gulf, but have led to problems such as hypoxia (a zone of oxygen-depleted water), declining fish catch, contaminated fish, fish kills, endangered species, and air and water quality problems.

The role of the Gulf of Mexico is complex. The Gulf hosts important ocean currents (the area where hurricanes can gain strength before hitting land). The Gulf of Mexico and the Caribbean area contain some of the most spectacular wildlife in the world. The Gulf also partially supplies moisture for the North American Monsoon, and is also an important area for recreation and commercial fisheries. Many onshore refineries and offshore drilling platforms operate in the Gulf area, and produce about a quarter of the crude oil and almost one third of the natural gas in the United States. The Gulf also links the ports of the five southern states and Mexico with the ocean; about half of all the cargo shipped in and out of the United States travels through the Gulf. The Gulf of Mexico provides food, energy, jobs, recreation, and government revenue, not only benefiting the population on the shoreline of the Gulf, but the whole country.

See also Delta; Dunes; Estuary; Gulf stream; Petroleum extraction; Red tide; Rip current; Seawalls and beach erosion

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"Gulf of Mexico." World of Earth Science. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Mexico, Gulf of

MEXICO, GULF OF

MEXICO, GULF OF. Bounded by the southern United States, eastern Mexico, and Cuba, this oval-shaped body of water has played a central role in North America's economic and political development. The Gulf of Mexico and its coastal beaches, estuaries, and islands have supplied varied peoples with abundant food and minerals. A warm current, the Gulf Stream, enters the gulf from the Caribbean Sea at the Strait of Yucatán and flows into the Atlantic at the Straits of Florida. The gulf's large mass of warm water shapes weather across the region, creating long growing seasons and violent tropical storms. The 600,000-square-mile gulf has been the site of important trade routes and settlements and a pivotal arena for imperial contests since Europeans first arrived in the Americas.

Diverse native societies once ringed the gulf, including complex Maya and Aztec civilizations in Mesoamerica, and Calusa, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Natchez, and Karankawa peoples in what became the United States. Spain first explored the gulf in voyages by Juan Ponce de León in 1513 and Alonso Alvarez de Pineda in 1519, and colonial outposts such as Havana and Veracruz rapidly followed. The gulf was a Spanish sea for nearly two centuries, and Spanish galleons took great quantities of silver and gold from the region. The French entered the gulf in about 1700, and the heart of their colonial effort was the Mississippi River and New Orleans, founded in 1718.

Imperial rivalries between Spain, France, and England dominated the region in the eighteenth century. The eventual winner, the United States, entered the scene in 1803 with the Louisiana Purchase. The Americans continued earlier patterns of growing rice, sugar, and cotton using slave labor, and New Orleans became their major gulf port. A powerful desire for new lands led to American acquisition of Florida, completed between 1810 and 1819. Florida and Texas were granted statehood in 1845, and the admission of Texas led to war with Mexico. The American victory in the Mexican-American War in 1848 confirmed the Rio Grande as the western edge of America's Gulf Coast. Expansion along the gulf ended there, as antebellum efforts to purchase Cuba for its sugar plantations and strategic position failed.

The security and stability of the Gulf of Mexico remained a significant foreign policy concern during the twentieth century. In 1898 the American victory in the Spanish-American War gave Puerto Rico to the United States, and Cuba became an American protectorate. The Panama Canal, begun in 1904, made shipping lanes in the gulf even more important. The United States intervened in the region many times in the twentieth century with its greatest focus on its complex Cold War relations with Cuba.

Military tensions in the gulf eased by the beginning of the twenty-first century, but environmental concerns increased as large numbers of Americans built homes along the Gulf or visited its beaches as tourists. In the twenty-first century the Gulf Coast remained a major agricultural region and the site of important fisheries, and after the 1940s it became a leader in oil, natural gas, and petrochemical production. The Gulf of Mexico has rich natural resources, but its many users put its productive waters and fragile coastlines and reefs at risk.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gore, Robert H. The Gulf of Mexico: A Treasury of Resources in the American Mediterranean. Sarasota, Fla.: Pineapple Press, 1992.

Weber, David J. The Spanish Frontier in North America. New Haven, Conn.: Yale University Press, 1992.

William C.Barnett

See alsoCuba, Relations with ; Mexico, Relations with .

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"Mexico, Gulf of." Dictionary of American History. . Encyclopedia.com. 18 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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Mexico, Gulf of

Gulf of Mexico, arm of the Atlantic Ocean, c.700,000 sq mi (1,813,000 sq km), SE North America. The Gulf stretches more than 1,100 mi (1,770 km) from west to east and c.800 mi (1,290 km) from north to south. It is bordered by the southeast coast of the United States from Florida to Texas, and the east coast of Mexico from Tamaulipas to Yucatán. Cuba is near the Gulf's entrance. On Cuba's northern side the Gulf is connected with the Atlantic Ocean by the Straits of Florida; on Cuba's southern side it is connected with the Caribbean Sea by the Yucatán Channel. Warm water from the Caribbean enters the Gulf through the Channel, forms a loop current off the U.S. and Mexican coasts, and then exits through the Straits as the Florida Current, becoming the Gulf Stream.

The Bay of Campeche (Bahía de Campeche), Mexico, and Apalachee Bay, Florida, are the Gulf's largest arms. Sigsbee Deep (12,714 ft/3,875 m), the Gulf's deepest part, lies off the Mexican coast. The shoreline is generally low, sandy, and marshy, with many lagoons and deltas. Chief of the many rivers entering the Gulf are the Mississippi, Alabama, Brazos, and Rio Grande. The U.S. Intracoastal Waterway follows the Gulf's northern coast.

Oil deposits from the continental shelf are tapped by offshore wells, especially near Texas and Louisiana. Most of the U.S. shrimp catch comes from the Gulf Coast; menhaden is also important. The discovery in the 1990s of a large oxygen-depleted "dead zone" off the Louisiana coast raised concerns about the effects of agricultural runoff on the Gulf; the zone has at times encompassed more than 8,000 sq mi (20,700 sq km). The chief Gulf ports are at Tampa and Pensacola, Fla.; Mobile, Ala.; New Orleans; Galveston and Corpus Christi, Tex.; Tampico and Veracruz, Mexico; and Havana, Cuba.

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