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The Effect of Salinity on the Wind-Driven Circulation and the Thermal Structure of the Upper Ocean

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  • 1 Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 2 Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, NOAA, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 3 Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, Department of Geosciences, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey
  • | 4 Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Studies of the effect of a freshening of the surface waters in high latitudes on the oceanic circulation have thus far focused almost entirely on the deep thermohaline circulation and its poleward heat transport. Here it is demonstrated, by means of an idealized general circulation model, that a similar freshening can also affect the shallow, wind-driven circulation of the ventilated thermocline and its heat transport from regions of gain (mainly in the upwelling zones of low latitudes) to regions of loss in higher latitudes. A freshening that decreases the surface density gradient between low and high latitudes reduces this poleward heat transport, thus forcing the ocean to gain less heat in order to maintain a balanced heat budget. The result is a deepening of the equatorial thermocline. (The deeper the thermocline in equatorial upwelling zones is, the less heat the ocean gains.) For a sufficiently strong freshwater forcing, the poleward heat transport all but vanishes, and permanently warm conditions prevail in the Tropics. The approach to warm oceanic conditions is shown to introduce a bifurcation mechanism for the north–south asymmetry of the thermal and salinity structure of the upper ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Alexey Fedorov, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P.O. Box 208109, New Haven, CT 06520-8109. Email: alexey.fedorov@yale.edu

Abstract

Studies of the effect of a freshening of the surface waters in high latitudes on the oceanic circulation have thus far focused almost entirely on the deep thermohaline circulation and its poleward heat transport. Here it is demonstrated, by means of an idealized general circulation model, that a similar freshening can also affect the shallow, wind-driven circulation of the ventilated thermocline and its heat transport from regions of gain (mainly in the upwelling zones of low latitudes) to regions of loss in higher latitudes. A freshening that decreases the surface density gradient between low and high latitudes reduces this poleward heat transport, thus forcing the ocean to gain less heat in order to maintain a balanced heat budget. The result is a deepening of the equatorial thermocline. (The deeper the thermocline in equatorial upwelling zones is, the less heat the ocean gains.) For a sufficiently strong freshwater forcing, the poleward heat transport all but vanishes, and permanently warm conditions prevail in the Tropics. The approach to warm oceanic conditions is shown to introduce a bifurcation mechanism for the north–south asymmetry of the thermal and salinity structure of the upper ocean.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Alexey Fedorov, Department of Geology and Geophysics, Yale University, P.O. Box 208109, New Haven, CT 06520-8109. Email: alexey.fedorov@yale.edu

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