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Seasonal Variations of Sea Surface Height in the Gulf Stream Region

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  • 1 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Based on more than four years of altimetric sea surface height (SSH) data, the Gulf Stream shows distinct seasonal variations in surface transport and latitudinal position, with a seasonal range in the SSH difference across the Gulf Stream of 0.14 m and a seasonal range in position of 0.42° lat. The seasonal variations are most pronounced west (upstream) of about 63°W, near the Gulf Stream’s warm core. The changes in the SSH difference across the Gulf Stream are successfully modeled as a steric response to ECMWF heat fluxes, after removing the large SSH variations due to seasonal position changes of the Gulf Stream. A phase shift between predicted and observed SSH changes in the Gulf Stream suggests that advection may be important in the seasonal heat budget. Consistent with the interpretation of SSH variations as steric, comparisons with hydrographic data suggest that the fall maximum SSH difference is from the upper 250 m of the water column. The maximum volume transport is in the spring. Zonally averaged indices are used to quantify seasonal changes in the Gulf Stream, which are analogous to changes in the atmospheric jet stream.

* Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Contribution Number 9367.

Current affiliation: Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Kathryn A. Kelly, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1013 N.E. 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698.

Email: kkelly@apl.washington.edu

Abstract

Based on more than four years of altimetric sea surface height (SSH) data, the Gulf Stream shows distinct seasonal variations in surface transport and latitudinal position, with a seasonal range in the SSH difference across the Gulf Stream of 0.14 m and a seasonal range in position of 0.42° lat. The seasonal variations are most pronounced west (upstream) of about 63°W, near the Gulf Stream’s warm core. The changes in the SSH difference across the Gulf Stream are successfully modeled as a steric response to ECMWF heat fluxes, after removing the large SSH variations due to seasonal position changes of the Gulf Stream. A phase shift between predicted and observed SSH changes in the Gulf Stream suggests that advection may be important in the seasonal heat budget. Consistent with the interpretation of SSH variations as steric, comparisons with hydrographic data suggest that the fall maximum SSH difference is from the upper 250 m of the water column. The maximum volume transport is in the spring. Zonally averaged indices are used to quantify seasonal changes in the Gulf Stream, which are analogous to changes in the atmospheric jet stream.

* Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Contribution Number 9367.

Current affiliation: Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Kathryn A. Kelly, Applied Physics Laboratory, College of Ocean and Fishery Sciences, University of Washington, 1013 N.E. 40th Street, Seattle, WA 98105-6698.

Email: kkelly@apl.washington.edu

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