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Transports and Pathways of the Upper-Layer Circulation in the Western Tropical Atlantic

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  • 1 Institut für Meereskunde an der Universität Kiel, Kiel, Germany
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Abstract

The mean warm water transfer toward the equator along the western boundary of the South Atlantic is investigated, based on a number of ship surveys carried out during 1990–96 with CTD water mass observations and current profiling by shipboard and lowered (with the CTD/rosette) acoustic Doppler current profiler and with Pegasus current profiler. The bulk of the northward warm water flow follows the coast in the North Brazil Undercurrent (NBUC) from latitudes south of 10°S, carrying 23 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) above 1000 m. Out of this, 16 Sv are waters warmer than 7°C that form the source waters of the Florida Current. Zonal inflow from the east by the South Equatorial Current enters the western boundary system dominantly north of 5°S, adding transport northwest of Cape San Roque, and transforming the NBUC along its way toward the equator into a surface-intensified current, the North Brazil Current (NBC). From the combination of moored arrays and shipboard sections just north of the equator along 44°W, the mean NBC transport was determined at 35 Sv with a small seasonal cycle amplitude of only about 3 Sv. The reason for the much larger near-equatorial northward warm water boundary current than what would be required to carry the northward heat transport are recirculations by the zonal current system and the existence of the shallow South Atlantic tropical–subtropical cell (STC). The STC connects the subduction zones of the eastern subtropics of both hemispheres via equatorward boundary undercurrents with the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), and the return flow is through upwelling and poleward Ekman transport. The persistent existence of a set of eastward thermocline and intermediate countercurrents on both sides of the equator was confirmed that recurred throughout the observations and carry ventilated waters from the boundary regime into the tropical interior. A strong westward current underneath the EUC, the Equatorial Intermediate Current, returns low-oxygen water westward. Consistent evidence for the existence of a seasonal variation in the warm water flow south of the equator could not be established, whereas significant seasonal variability of the boundary regime occurs north of the equator: northwestward alongshore throughflow of about 10 Sv of waters with properties from the Southern Hemisphere was found along the Guiana boundary in boreal spring when the North Equatorial Countercurrent is absent or even flowing westward, whereas during June–January the upper NBC is known to connect with the eastward North Equatorial Countercurrent through a retroflection zone that seasonally migrates up and down the coast and spawns eddies. The equatorial zone thus acts as a buffer and transformation zone for cross-equatorial exchanges, but knowledge of the detailed pathways in the interior including the involved diapycnal exchanges is still a problem.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Friedrich A. Schott, Institut für Meereskunde, Universität Kiel, Düternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany.

Email: fschott@ifm.uni-kiel.de

Abstract

The mean warm water transfer toward the equator along the western boundary of the South Atlantic is investigated, based on a number of ship surveys carried out during 1990–96 with CTD water mass observations and current profiling by shipboard and lowered (with the CTD/rosette) acoustic Doppler current profiler and with Pegasus current profiler. The bulk of the northward warm water flow follows the coast in the North Brazil Undercurrent (NBUC) from latitudes south of 10°S, carrying 23 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) above 1000 m. Out of this, 16 Sv are waters warmer than 7°C that form the source waters of the Florida Current. Zonal inflow from the east by the South Equatorial Current enters the western boundary system dominantly north of 5°S, adding transport northwest of Cape San Roque, and transforming the NBUC along its way toward the equator into a surface-intensified current, the North Brazil Current (NBC). From the combination of moored arrays and shipboard sections just north of the equator along 44°W, the mean NBC transport was determined at 35 Sv with a small seasonal cycle amplitude of only about 3 Sv. The reason for the much larger near-equatorial northward warm water boundary current than what would be required to carry the northward heat transport are recirculations by the zonal current system and the existence of the shallow South Atlantic tropical–subtropical cell (STC). The STC connects the subduction zones of the eastern subtropics of both hemispheres via equatorward boundary undercurrents with the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC), and the return flow is through upwelling and poleward Ekman transport. The persistent existence of a set of eastward thermocline and intermediate countercurrents on both sides of the equator was confirmed that recurred throughout the observations and carry ventilated waters from the boundary regime into the tropical interior. A strong westward current underneath the EUC, the Equatorial Intermediate Current, returns low-oxygen water westward. Consistent evidence for the existence of a seasonal variation in the warm water flow south of the equator could not be established, whereas significant seasonal variability of the boundary regime occurs north of the equator: northwestward alongshore throughflow of about 10 Sv of waters with properties from the Southern Hemisphere was found along the Guiana boundary in boreal spring when the North Equatorial Countercurrent is absent or even flowing westward, whereas during June–January the upper NBC is known to connect with the eastward North Equatorial Countercurrent through a retroflection zone that seasonally migrates up and down the coast and spawns eddies. The equatorial zone thus acts as a buffer and transformation zone for cross-equatorial exchanges, but knowledge of the detailed pathways in the interior including the involved diapycnal exchanges is still a problem.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Friedrich A. Schott, Institut für Meereskunde, Universität Kiel, Düternbrooker Weg 20, 24105 Kiel, Germany.

Email: fschott@ifm.uni-kiel.de

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