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Large-Scale SST Variability in the Western North Atlantic Subtropical Convergence Zone during FASINEX. Part II: Upper Ocean Heat Balance and Frontogenesis

George R. Halliwell Jr.Graduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island

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Peter CornillonGraduate School of Oceanography, University of Rhode Island, Narragansett, Rhode Island

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Abstract

We analyzed the influence of wind-deriven horizontal heat advection on the large-scale [O(1000) km wavelength] variability of both the upper-ocean mixed-layer heat content and the subtropical frontal zone (SFZ) within an 11° by 10° domain in the western North Atlantic Ocean during FASINEX (January through June 1986). By estimating heat advection due to both Ekman transport and interior geostrophic (Sverdrup minus Ekman) transport from a slab mixed layer heat balance equation using satellite-derived sea surface temperature (Ts) and wind analysis maps, it was found that these processes could not account for the observed variability in either beat content or the SFZ. The annual cycle of surface vertical heat flux had the dominant influence on the heat content. Even when the average heat balance was analyzed during a 4-month time interval when the net influence of the annual cycle was nearly zero (mid-January to mid-May 1986), westward-propagating Ts spatial anomaly features with peak-to-peak scales of several hundred kilometers apparently had the dominant influence on heat content. The influence of Ekman transport appeared to become marginally detectable only when terms in the heat equation were zonally averaged across the entire analysis domain, apparently reducing the influence of the propagating anomaly features. Ekman transport did act to maintain the SFZ during the 4-month interval, and thus may have been ultimately responsible for its existence, but the large-amplitude variability in heat content and the SFZ driven by other processes made this impossible to prove conclusively in the FASINEX region.

Abstract

We analyzed the influence of wind-deriven horizontal heat advection on the large-scale [O(1000) km wavelength] variability of both the upper-ocean mixed-layer heat content and the subtropical frontal zone (SFZ) within an 11° by 10° domain in the western North Atlantic Ocean during FASINEX (January through June 1986). By estimating heat advection due to both Ekman transport and interior geostrophic (Sverdrup minus Ekman) transport from a slab mixed layer heat balance equation using satellite-derived sea surface temperature (Ts) and wind analysis maps, it was found that these processes could not account for the observed variability in either beat content or the SFZ. The annual cycle of surface vertical heat flux had the dominant influence on the heat content. Even when the average heat balance was analyzed during a 4-month time interval when the net influence of the annual cycle was nearly zero (mid-January to mid-May 1986), westward-propagating Ts spatial anomaly features with peak-to-peak scales of several hundred kilometers apparently had the dominant influence on heat content. The influence of Ekman transport appeared to become marginally detectable only when terms in the heat equation were zonally averaged across the entire analysis domain, apparently reducing the influence of the propagating anomaly features. Ekman transport did act to maintain the SFZ during the 4-month interval, and thus may have been ultimately responsible for its existence, but the large-amplitude variability in heat content and the SFZ driven by other processes made this impossible to prove conclusively in the FASINEX region.

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