The Gulf of Mexico is an ocean basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean. This partially landlocked body of water is bounded on the northeast, north, and northwest by the United States Gulf Coast, the southwest and south by Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, and the southeast by Cuba.
Gulf of Mexico: Ocean Basin
The Gulf of Mexico is an oceanic rift basin and a marginal sea of the Atlantic Ocean, surrounded mainly by the southernmost portions of the North American continent. It covers an area of approximately 1,550,000 sq km (600,000 sq mi).
This partially landlocked body of water is bounded on the northeast, north, and northwest by the United States Gulf Coast, the southwest and south by Mexico and the Yucatán Peninsula, and the southeast by Cuba.
The Gulf is connected to the Atlantic Ocean through the Florida Straits between the U.S. and Cuba and the Caribbean Sea (with which it forms the "American Mediterranean Sea") via the Yucatán Channel between Mexico and Cuba.
The Gulf of Mexico is a major sedimentary basin. Rivers and streams carry sediments from the surrounding landmasses into the Gulf. These sediments are deposited on the basin floor, and they help build up the coastline.
The Gulf of Mexico consists of the following seven main areas:
The Gulf of Mexico basin contains the "Sigsbee Deep" (the deepest point) and can be further divided into the continental rise, the Sigsbee Abyssal Plain, and the Mississippi Cone.
The Northeast Gulf of Mexico extends east of the Mississippi River Delta near Biloxi to the eastern side of Apalachee Bay.
The South Florida Continental Shelf and Slope extend along the coast from Apalachee Bay to the Straits of Florida, including the Florida Keys and Dry Tortugas.
The Campeche Bank extends from the Yucatán Straits in the east to the Tabasco-Campeche Basin in the west and includes Arrecife Alacran.
The Bay of Campeche is an isthmian embayment extending from the western edge of Campeche Bank to the offshore regions just east of the port of Veracruz.
The Western Gulf of Mexico is between Veracruz to the south and the Rio Grande to the north.
The Northwest Gulf of Mexico extends from Alabama to the Rio Grande.
The Gulf formed approximately 300 million years ago due to plate tectonics. The basin floor is roughly oval, about 1,500 km (930 mi) wide, consisting of sedimentary rocks and recent sediments.
The North American Plate is a large, stable plate that is not moving very much. The Caribbean Plate is a smaller plate moving away from the North American Plate. Finally, the Cocos Plate is a smaller plate moving towards the North American Plate. The movement of these plates is responsible for the formation of the Gulf of Mexico.
The North American Plate was once connected to the South American Plate. However, the Cocos Plate began to move towards the North American Plate about 20 million years ago. This movement caused the North American Plate to split, creating the Gulf of Mexico.
The tectonic activity in the Gulf of Mexico region is responsible for the region's rich natural resources, including oil and gas. It is also a region of seismic activity, and there have been several significant earthquakes in the Gulf of Mexico region in recent history.
The Gulf of Mexico consists of several ecological and geologic provinces, primarily the coastal zone, the continental shelf, the continental slope, and the deep flat region or "abyssal plain."
The coastal zone of the Gulf consists of tidal marshes, sandy beaches, mangrove-covered areas, many bays, estuaries, and lagoons. These shores are a significant habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds.
The continental shelf is a broad area primarily consisting of carbonate material such as limestone. The remainder of the shelf consists of sediments such as sand, silt, and clay. In addition, buried salt domes and oil and natural gas deposits occur on the shelf and the continental slope.
The salinity of the Gulf waters is subject to wide variation due to the inflow from the various rivers that empty into the Gulf, especially near the outflow of the broad Mississippi River delta region in the north.
The climate of the Gulf region varies from tropical to subtropical. Tropical cyclones, or hurricanes, strike the area regularly.
The shores of the Gulf of Mexico are a significant habitat for waterfowl and shorebirds. In addition, the waters of the Gulf contain huge fish populations, particularly along the continental shelf.
3D map of the Gulf of Mexico