Graduation Year


Document Type




Degree Granting Department

Geography, Environment and Planning

Major Professor

Jennifer Collins


advection freeze, Arctic Oscillation, Chelonia mydas, cold snap, rehabilitation


January of 2010 brought record-breaking cold temperatures to Florida. Such freeze events can upset vulnerable populations of marine life and other species that rely on stable water temperatures. Sea turtles are one group of species that are particularly susceptible to abrupt drops in water temperature. When water temperatures drop below 10°C, a mass hypothermic stunning, or cold-stunning, event for sea turtles can be expected, with many debilitated turtles washing onshore with a very limited time window to be rehabilitated (Foley et al. 2007). The species of sea turtle that appears to cold-stun with the most frequency is the green turtle, especially juveniles. The green turtle represented the vast majority of marine turtles that were rescued during the 2010 cold-stun event.

Therefore, accurate weather pattern recognition of marine cold snaps, or freezes, can alert sea turtle rescue groups and rehabilitation facilities in advance of any event, improving their readiness and response times, and ultimately preventing population declines. The proposed research fills this need by providing a qualitative analysis of select years for comparable atmospheric processes that could result in moderate to severe hypothermic stunning events. The 2010 event, along with other significant events, were examined using in situ air temperature, water temperature and wind data near two locations in Florida where hypothermic stunning events occurred: St. Joseph Bay and Mosquito Lagoon. These atmospheric parameters were represented graphically, depicting how each variable contributed to shaping an event.

Cold stunning events were found to be primarily driven by frigid air temperatures and a subsequent decrease in water temperatures. Differences between the two event classifications, moderate and severe, are contingent upon the duration of the cold spell, not necessarily how quickly the water temperature dropped below the 10°C threshold value. Results suggest that repeated, quick exposure to cold air temperatures may influence the severity of a hypothermic stunning event. This research could be utilized in the formation of a forecasting model or strategy to efficiently alert the Florida Sea Turtle Stranding and Salvage Network (STSSN) to a potential sharp drop in water temperatures and, consequently, many debilitated sea turtles.