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Geography of the Gulf of Mexico

Learn Ten Facts about the Gulf of Mexico

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A wonderful map of Mexico.

The Gulf of Mexico can be seen in this map of Mexico.

Map courtesy of the CIA World Factbook, 2007.
Updated May 03, 2010

The Gulf of Mexico is a large ocean basin near the Southeastern United States. It is a part of the Atlantic Ocean and is bounded by Mexico to the southwest, Cuba and the Gulf Coast of the U.S. which includes the states of Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas (map). The Gulf of Mexico is one of the largest bodies of water in the world at a width of 810 nautical miles (1,500 km). The entire basin is about 600,000 square miles (1.5 million sq km). Most of the basin consists of shallow intertidal areas but its deepest point is called Sigsbee Deep and has an estimated depth of about 14,383 feet (4,384 m).

Most recently the Gulf of Mexico has been in the news due to a large oil spill that occurred on April 22, 2010 when an oil drilling platform suffered an explosion and sank into the Gulf about 50 miles (80 km) from Louisiana. 11 people likely died in the explosion and an estimated 5,000 barrels of oil per day leaked into the Gulf of Mexico from the 18,000-foot (5,486 m) well on the platform. Clean-up crews attempted to burn the oil off of the water, gather the oil and move it, and block it from hitting the coast. The Gulf of Mexico itself and the regions surrounding it are highly biodiverse and feature large fishing economies.

The following is a list of ten geographic facts to know about the Gulf of Mexico:

1) It is believed that the Gulf of Mexico formed as a result of seafloor subsidence (or the gradual sinking of the seafloor) about 300 million years ago.

2) The first European exploration of the Gulf of Mexico occurred in 1497 when Amerigo Vespucci sailed along Central America and entered the Atlantic Ocean through the Gulf of Mexico and the Straits of Florida (the strip of water between present-day Florida and Cuba).

3) Further exploration of the Gulf of Mexico continued throughout the 1500s and after numerous shipwrecks in the region, settlers and explorers decided to establish a settlement along the northern Gulf coast. They said this would protect shipping and in the event of an emergency, rescue would be nearby. Thus, in 1559, Tristán de Luna y Arellano landed at Pensacola Bay and established a settlement.

4) The Gulf of Mexico today is bordered by 1,680 miles (2,700 km) of U.S. coastline and is fed with water from 33 major rivers that flow out of the U.S. The largest of these rivers is the Mississippi River. Along the south and southwest, the Gulf of Mexico is bordered by the Mexican states of Tamaulipas, Veracruz, Tabasco, Campeche and Yucatán. This region consists of about 1,394 miles (2,243 km) of coastline. The southeast is bordered by Cuba.

5) An important feature of the Gulf of Mexico is the Gulf Stream, which is a warm Atlantic current that begins in the region and flows north into the Atlantic Ocean. Because it is a warm current, sea surface temperatures in the Gulf of Mexico are normally also warm, which feeds Atlantic hurricanes and helps in giving them strength. Hurricanes are common along the Gulf Coast.

6) The Gulf of Mexico features a wide continental shelf, specifically around Florida and the Yucatán Peninsula. Because this continental shelf easily accessible, the Gulf of Mexico is exploited for oil with offshore oil drilling rigs centered in the Bay of Campeche and the western gulf region. Many statistics show that the U.S. employs about 55,000 workers in oil extraction in the Gulf of Mexico and one quarter of the country's oil comes from the region. Natural gas is also extracted from the Gulf of Mexico but it is done so at a lower rate than oil.

7) Fisheries are also extremely productive in the Gulf of Mexico and many Gulf Coast states have economies centered on fishing in the area. In the U.S., the Gulf of Mexico has four of the country's largest fishing ports, while in Mexico has eight of the top 20 largest. Shrimp and oysters are among the largest fish products that come from the Gulf of Mexico.

8) Recreation and tourism are also a significant part of the economy of the lands surrounding the Gulf of Mexico. Recreational fishing is popular as are water sports, and tourism along the coastal regions on the Gulf.

9) The Gulf of Mexico is a highly biodiverse area and features many coastal wetlands and mangrove forests. The wetlands along the Gulf of Mexico for instance cover around 5 million acres (2.02 million hectares). Seabirds, fish and reptiles are abundant and around 45,000 bottlenose dolphins and a large population of sperm whales and sea turtles inhabit the Gulf's waters.

10) In the U.S., the population of the coast regions surrounding the Gulf of Mexico is estimated to number over 60 million people by 2025 as states such as Texas (the second most populous state) and Florida (the fourth most populous state) are growing quickly.

To learn more about the Gulf of Mexico, visit the Gulf of Mexico Program from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

References

Fausset, Richard. (2010, April 23). "Flaming Oil Rig Sinks in Gulf of Mexico." Los Angeles Times. Retrieved from: http://articles.latimes.com/2010/apr/23/nation/la-na-oil-rig-20100423

Robertson, Campbell and Leslie Kaufman. (2010, April 28). "Size of Spill in Gulf of Mexico is Larger than Thought." New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2010/04/29/us/29spill.html

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2010, February 26). General Facts about the Gulf of Mexico - GMPO - US EPA. Retrieved from: http://www.epa.gov/gmpo/about/facts.html#resources

Wikipedia. (2010, April 29). Gulf of Mexico - Wikipedia, the Free Encyclopedia. Retrieved from: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gulf_of_Mexico

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