20 Jun 2022
20 Jun 2022

Observation-based estimates of volume, heat and freshwater exchanges between the subpolar North Atlantic interior, its boundary currents and the atmosphere

Sam C. Jones, Neil J. Fraser, Stuart A. Cunningham, Alan D. Fox, and Mark E. Inall Sam C. Jones et al.
  • Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK

Abstract. The Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) transports heat and salt between the tropical Atlantic and Arctic oceans. The interior of the North Atlantic Subpolar Gyre (SPG) is responsible for the much of the water mass transformation in the AMOC, and the export of this water to intensified boundary currents is crucial for projecting air-sea interaction onto the strength of the AMOC. However, the magnitude and location of exchange between the SPG and the boundary remains unclear.

We present a novel climatology of the SPG boundary using quality controlled CTD and Argo hydrography. We define the SPG as the oceanic region bounded by 47° N and the 1000 m isobath. From this hydrography we compute geostrophic currents referenced to altimetry across the SPG boundary.

Water density generally increases moving counter-clockwise from Biscay, leading to geostrophic flow out of the SPG around much of the boundary with minimal seasonality. An exception is the West Greenland Current region, where the density gradient is reversed, with a corresponding reversal in flow into the interior. Across the southern boundery at 47° N, geostrophic flow is generally into the SPG above 1000 m. In contrast the surface Ekman forcing drives net flow out of the SPG in all seasons with pronounced seasonality, varying between 2.45 ± 0.73 Sv in the summer and 7.70 ± 2.90 Sv in the winter. We estimate heat advected into the SPG to be between 0.14 ± 0.05 PW in the winter and 0.23 ± 0.05 PW in the spring, and freshwater advected out of the SPG to be between 0.07 ± 0.02 Sv in the summer and 0.15 ± 0.02 Sv in the autumn. These estimates approximately balance the surface heat and freshwater fluxes over the SPG domain.

Overturning in the SPG varies seasonally, with a minimum of 6.20 ± 1.40 Sv in the autumn and a maximum of 10.17 ± 1.91 Sv in the spring. The primary density of maximum overturning is at 27.30 kgm-3, with a secondary, smaller maximum at 27.54 kgm-3. Upper waters (σ0 < 27.30 kgm-3) are transformed in the interior then exported as either intermediate water (27.30–27.54 kgm-3) in the NAC or as dense water (σ0 > 27.54 kgm-3) exiting to the south. Our results support the present consensus that the formation and pre-conditioning of subpolar Mode Water in the north-eastern Atlantic is a key driver and modulator of AMOC strength.

Sam C. Jones et al.

Status: final response (author comments only)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-472', Anonymous Referee #1, 09 Aug 2022
  • RC2: 'Comment on egusphere-2022-472', Anonymous Referee #2, 05 Sep 2022

Sam C. Jones et al.


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Short summary
Warm water is transported from the tropical Atlantic towards western Europe and the Arctic. It loses heat to the atmosphere on the way, which strongly influences the climate. We construct a dataset encircling the North Atlantic basin north of 47° N. We calculate how and where heat enters and leaves the basin, and how much cooling must happen in the interior. We find that cooling in the North-eastern Atlantic is a crucial step in controlling the conversion of water to higher densities.