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Cloud filters developed for high-resolution (1-km) Advanced Very High Resolution Radiometer (AVHRR) satellite-derived sea surface temperature (SST) observations are generally inadequate to capture extreme cold events. Such events impacted shallow waters in Florida Bay and other coastal regions in January 2010 with fatal consequences for large numbers of corals and associated organisms. Raw AVHRR images were reprocessed to understand whether historical knowledge of daily and interannual SST variations could be used to derive a practical cloud-filtering technique. This approach, however, misidentified valid water temperature pixels in nearly 20% of 2703 images collected during the month of January for each year between 1995 and 2010. To create an improved SST climatology, this cloud-filtering method was combined with manually delineated overrides of falsely masked regions. During the January 2010 cold event, this climatology indicated negative SST anomalies of up to 11.6°C in the Big Bend region and 14°C in Florida Bay, with high spatial heterogeneity throughout. Our findings highlight the need for improved autonomous cloud-masking techniques to detect cold events in near real time.