Transit-Time Distributions in a Global Ocean Model

Synte Peacock Department of the Geophysical Sciences, The University of Chicago, Chicago, Illinois

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Mathew Maltrud Los Alamos National Laboratory, Los Alamos, New Mexico

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Abstract

Results from a simulation of the ocean “transit-time distribution” (“TTD”) for global and regional ocean surface boundary conditions are presented based on a 5000-yr integration using the Parallel Ocean Program ocean general circulation model. The TTD describes the probability that water at a given interior point in the ocean was at some point on the ocean surface a given amount of time ago. It is shown that the spatial distribution of ocean TTDs can be understood in terms of conventional wisdom regarding time scales and pathways of the ventilated thermocline and the thermohaline circulation–driven deep-ocean circulation. The true mean age from the model (the first moment of the TTD) is demonstrated to be very large everywhere, because of very long-tailed distributions. Regional TTD distributions are presented for distinct surface boundary subregions, and it is shown how these can help in the interpretation of the global TTD. The spatial structure of each regional TTD is shown to become essentially the same at relatively long times. The form of the TTD at a given point in the ocean can be very simple, but some regions do exhibit more complicated multimodal distributions. The degree to which a simple functional approximation to the TTD is able to predict the spatial and temporal evolution of selected idealized tracers (for which interior sources and sinks are known or zero) with knowledge of only the tracer surface boundary condition is explored.

Corresponding author address: Synte Peacock, Department of Geophysical Sciences, The University of Chicago, 5734 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. Email: synte@geosci.uchicago.edu

Abstract

Results from a simulation of the ocean “transit-time distribution” (“TTD”) for global and regional ocean surface boundary conditions are presented based on a 5000-yr integration using the Parallel Ocean Program ocean general circulation model. The TTD describes the probability that water at a given interior point in the ocean was at some point on the ocean surface a given amount of time ago. It is shown that the spatial distribution of ocean TTDs can be understood in terms of conventional wisdom regarding time scales and pathways of the ventilated thermocline and the thermohaline circulation–driven deep-ocean circulation. The true mean age from the model (the first moment of the TTD) is demonstrated to be very large everywhere, because of very long-tailed distributions. Regional TTD distributions are presented for distinct surface boundary subregions, and it is shown how these can help in the interpretation of the global TTD. The spatial structure of each regional TTD is shown to become essentially the same at relatively long times. The form of the TTD at a given point in the ocean can be very simple, but some regions do exhibit more complicated multimodal distributions. The degree to which a simple functional approximation to the TTD is able to predict the spatial and temporal evolution of selected idealized tracers (for which interior sources and sinks are known or zero) with knowledge of only the tracer surface boundary condition is explored.

Corresponding author address: Synte Peacock, Department of Geophysical Sciences, The University of Chicago, 5734 S. Ellis Ave., Chicago, IL 60637. Email: synte@geosci.uchicago.edu

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