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Annual and Interannual Changes in the North Atlantic STMW Layer Properties

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  • 1 University of Rhode Island, Graduate School of Oceanography, Narragansett, Rhode Island
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Abstract

Subtropical mode waters (STWMs) are water masses formed in winter by convective mixing on the equatorward side of western boundary currents in the subtropical gyres. After the return of the seasonal stratification in spring, it is found at the stratification minimum between the seasonal and main pycnoclines. By characterizing STMW primarily at the density gradient minimum, previous studies were limited in their ability to describe STMW properties over large temporal and spatial scales. Rather than using a density-based characterization, the North Atlantic STMW layer was identified here by its much smaller temperature gradient relative to the more stratified seasonal and main thermocline, its temperature, and its large thickness. By using this temperature-based characterization, this study was able to develop a climatology using the large number of XBTs deployed between 1968 and 1988 and contained in the World Ocean Atlas 1994 historical hydrographic database and to use this climatology to examine STMW properties on large spatial and long temporal scales. Three different characterizations were used to assess the degree of convective renewal of the STMW layer during the 1968–88 winters. Two characterizations were based on comparing the winter mixed layer properties to the STMW layer properties in the previous fall, while the third characterization involved comparing the temperature gradient through the STMW layer in the spring to the STMW layer temperature gradient in the previous fall. Based on these characterizations, there was considerable spatial and temporal variability in the renewal of the STMW layer's vertical homogeneity from 1968 to 1988. Basinwide renewal occurred in 1969, 1970, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1985, with more localized renewal, usually east of 55°W, in the other years. While STMW is nearly vertically homogeneous immediately after renewal, the temperature gradient through the layer increases with time following renewal. The annual rate of increase in the temperature gradient in the year following renewal is ∼5–6 (× 10−4°C per 100 m per day), while the interannual rate of increase is ∼2.0 × 10−4°C per 100 m per day following winters with no renewal of the STMW layer.

*Current affiliation: Department of Science, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut.

Corresponding author address: Michael Alfultis, Department of Science, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, 27 Mohegan Avenue, New London, CT 06320-8101.Email: malfultis@cga.uscg.mil

Abstract

Subtropical mode waters (STWMs) are water masses formed in winter by convective mixing on the equatorward side of western boundary currents in the subtropical gyres. After the return of the seasonal stratification in spring, it is found at the stratification minimum between the seasonal and main pycnoclines. By characterizing STMW primarily at the density gradient minimum, previous studies were limited in their ability to describe STMW properties over large temporal and spatial scales. Rather than using a density-based characterization, the North Atlantic STMW layer was identified here by its much smaller temperature gradient relative to the more stratified seasonal and main thermocline, its temperature, and its large thickness. By using this temperature-based characterization, this study was able to develop a climatology using the large number of XBTs deployed between 1968 and 1988 and contained in the World Ocean Atlas 1994 historical hydrographic database and to use this climatology to examine STMW properties on large spatial and long temporal scales. Three different characterizations were used to assess the degree of convective renewal of the STMW layer during the 1968–88 winters. Two characterizations were based on comparing the winter mixed layer properties to the STMW layer properties in the previous fall, while the third characterization involved comparing the temperature gradient through the STMW layer in the spring to the STMW layer temperature gradient in the previous fall. Based on these characterizations, there was considerable spatial and temporal variability in the renewal of the STMW layer's vertical homogeneity from 1968 to 1988. Basinwide renewal occurred in 1969, 1970, 1977, 1978, 1981, and 1985, with more localized renewal, usually east of 55°W, in the other years. While STMW is nearly vertically homogeneous immediately after renewal, the temperature gradient through the layer increases with time following renewal. The annual rate of increase in the temperature gradient in the year following renewal is ∼5–6 (× 10−4°C per 100 m per day), while the interannual rate of increase is ∼2.0 × 10−4°C per 100 m per day following winters with no renewal of the STMW layer.

*Current affiliation: Department of Science, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, New London, Connecticut.

Corresponding author address: Michael Alfultis, Department of Science, U.S. Coast Guard Academy, 27 Mohegan Avenue, New London, CT 06320-8101.Email: malfultis@cga.uscg.mil

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