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Quasi-decadal Salinity Fluctuations in the Labrador Sea

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  • 1 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
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Abstract

The quasi-decadal salinity fluctuations in the upper 300 m of the Labrador Sea are investigated by partitioning all available salinity station data since 1948 by region and bottom depth. There are major freshwater anomalies in the early 1970s (the Great Salinity Anomaly), mid-1980s, and early 1990s. These vary in amplitude throughout the region, being least on the shelf and greatest over the slope region near the Labrador Current. The Labrador Sea cannot be considered a simple conduit for freshwater anomalies originating in the East Greenland Current. There is evidence that local processes modulate the anomaly. The freshwater anomalies in the Labrador Current are approximately twice as large as those in the East Greenland Current. The Baffin Island Current flowing southward through the western Davis Strait is the only local source of freshwater with sufficient volume to account for this increase. The propagation speed, 2–3 cm s−1, of the anomaly along the Labrador Sea margin is much less than the advection speed indicating a highly damped system. The connection of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) with these quasi-decadal salinity fluctuations is most obvious in the Labrador Sea interior, where increased surface buoyancy flux during positive NAO drives deep convective mixing and thus terminates the fresh surface anomalies. Less clear are the processes by which NAO-forced changes of lateral freshwater flux modulate the salinity along the margin. The authors propose a feedback mechanism where, during years of low wind speed, freshwater accumulates offshore of the slope front in the surface layer. The increased upper-layer buoyancy prohibits further mixing, and low salinities persist.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert W. Houghton, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, P.O. Box 1000, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000. Email: houghton@ldeo.columbia.edu

Abstract

The quasi-decadal salinity fluctuations in the upper 300 m of the Labrador Sea are investigated by partitioning all available salinity station data since 1948 by region and bottom depth. There are major freshwater anomalies in the early 1970s (the Great Salinity Anomaly), mid-1980s, and early 1990s. These vary in amplitude throughout the region, being least on the shelf and greatest over the slope region near the Labrador Current. The Labrador Sea cannot be considered a simple conduit for freshwater anomalies originating in the East Greenland Current. There is evidence that local processes modulate the anomaly. The freshwater anomalies in the Labrador Current are approximately twice as large as those in the East Greenland Current. The Baffin Island Current flowing southward through the western Davis Strait is the only local source of freshwater with sufficient volume to account for this increase. The propagation speed, 2–3 cm s−1, of the anomaly along the Labrador Sea margin is much less than the advection speed indicating a highly damped system. The connection of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) with these quasi-decadal salinity fluctuations is most obvious in the Labrador Sea interior, where increased surface buoyancy flux during positive NAO drives deep convective mixing and thus terminates the fresh surface anomalies. Less clear are the processes by which NAO-forced changes of lateral freshwater flux modulate the salinity along the margin. The authors propose a feedback mechanism where, during years of low wind speed, freshwater accumulates offshore of the slope front in the surface layer. The increased upper-layer buoyancy prohibits further mixing, and low salinities persist.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert W. Houghton, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, P.O. Box 1000, 61 Route 9W, Palisades, NY 10964-8000. Email: houghton@ldeo.columbia.edu

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