18 Oct 2022
18 Oct 2022
Status: this preprint is open for discussion.

Mixing and air-sea buoyancy fluxes set the time-mean overturning circulation in the subpolar North Atlantic

D. Gwyn Evans1, N. Penny Holliday1, Sheldon Bacon1, and Isabela Le Bras2 D. Gwyn Evans et al.
  • 1National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK
  • 2Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA

Abstract. The overturning streamfunction as measured at the OSNAP (Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program) mooring array represents the transformation of warm/salty Atlantic Water into cold/fresh North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). The magnitude of the overturning at the OSNAP mooring array can therefore be linked to the water mass transformation by air--sea buoyancy fluxes and mixing in the region to the north of the OSNAP array. Here, we estimate these water mass transformations using a combination of observational-based, reanalysis-based and model-based datasets. Our results highlight the complementary roles of air--sea buoyancy fluxes and mixing in setting the time-mean magnitude of the overturning at OSNAP. A cooling by air--sea heat fluxes and a mixing-driven freshening in the Nordics Seas, Iceland Basin and Irminger Sea, precondition the warm/salty Atlantic Water, forming subpolar mode water classes. Mixing in the interior of the Nordic Seas, over the Greenland-Scotland ridge and along the boundaries of the Irminger Sea and Iceland Basin drive a water mass transformation that leads to the convergence of volume in the water mass classes associated with NADW. Air--sea buoyancy fluxes and mixing therefore play key and complementary roles in setting the magnitude of the overturning within the subpolar North Atlantic and Nordic Seas. This study highlights that for climate models to realistically simulate the overturning circulation in the North Atlantic, the small scale processes that lead to the mixing-driven formation of NADW must be adequately represented within the model's parameterisation scheme.

D. Gwyn Evans et al.

Status: open (until 01 Jan 2023)

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D. Gwyn Evans et al.

D. Gwyn Evans et al.


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Short summary
This study investigates the processes that form dense water in the high latitudes of the North Atlantic to determine how they affect the overturning circulation in the Atlantic. We show for the first time that turbulent mixing is an important driver in the formation of dense water, along with the loss of heat from the ocean to the atmosphere. We point out that the simulation of turbulent mixing in ocean-climate models must improve to better predict the oceans response to climate change.