The Azores Countercurrent

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  • 1 Institut für Meereskunde, Kiel, Germany
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Abstract

New light is shed on Worthington's concept of the North Atlantic circulation, postulating the existence of two anticyclonic gyres. This concept, which seems to have been laid to rest in the last decade, has now been reinforced by the results of a simple linear Sverdrup circulation model yielding a band of westward transport all across the North Atlantic at about the Azores latitude. This narrow band is called the Azores Countercurrent (AzCC) and matches the position of westward flow required by Worthington's “northern gyre.” An anomaly in the meridional change of the wind-stress curl in the eastern North Atlantic has been identified as the driving mechanism.

A comparison with observations shows that the AzCC is verified in many analyses of historical datasets and synoptic surveys. A lack of the AzCC in other analyses is probably due to missing meridional sections, strong smoothing, and the superimposed Ekman flow close to the sea surface directed to the southeast. The AzCC has not been verified in low-resolution general circulation models applying simplified wind-stress fields and large friction coefficients, but there is evidence for its existence in recent high-resolution models driven by realistic wind stresses.

Based on these findings, a new pattern for the wind-driven upper ocean circulation of the midlatitude North Atlantic is presented.

Abstract

New light is shed on Worthington's concept of the North Atlantic circulation, postulating the existence of two anticyclonic gyres. This concept, which seems to have been laid to rest in the last decade, has now been reinforced by the results of a simple linear Sverdrup circulation model yielding a band of westward transport all across the North Atlantic at about the Azores latitude. This narrow band is called the Azores Countercurrent (AzCC) and matches the position of westward flow required by Worthington's “northern gyre.” An anomaly in the meridional change of the wind-stress curl in the eastern North Atlantic has been identified as the driving mechanism.

A comparison with observations shows that the AzCC is verified in many analyses of historical datasets and synoptic surveys. A lack of the AzCC in other analyses is probably due to missing meridional sections, strong smoothing, and the superimposed Ekman flow close to the sea surface directed to the southeast. The AzCC has not been verified in low-resolution general circulation models applying simplified wind-stress fields and large friction coefficients, but there is evidence for its existence in recent high-resolution models driven by realistic wind stresses.

Based on these findings, a new pattern for the wind-driven upper ocean circulation of the midlatitude North Atlantic is presented.

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