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Decadal Variability in the Formation of the North Pacific Subtropical Mode Water: Oceanic versus Atmospheric Control

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  • 1 Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
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Abstract

In situ temperature and altimetrically derived sea surface height data are used to investigate the low-frequency variations in the formation of the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Mode Water (STMW) over the past 12 yr. Inside the Kuroshio Extension (KE) recirculation gyre where STMW forms, the dominant signal is characterized by a gradual thinning in the late winter mixed layer depth and in the 16°–18°C thermostad layer from 1993 to 1999 and a subsequent steady thickening of these features after 2000. This same decadal signal is also seen in the low-potential-vorticity (PV) STMW layer in the interior subtropical gyre south of the recirculation gyre. By analyzing the air–sea flux data from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis project, little correlation is found between the decadal STMW signal and the year-to-year changes in the cumulative wintertime surface cooling. In contrast, the decadal signal is found to be closely related to variability in the dynamic state of the KE system. Specifically, STMW formation is reduced when the KE path is in a variable state, during which time high regional eddy variability infuses high-PV KE water into the recirculation gyre, increasing the upper-ocean stratification and hindering the development of a deep winter mixed layer. A stable KE path, on the other hand, favors the maintenance of a weak stratification, leading to a deep winter mixed layer and formation of a thick STMW layer. The relative importance of the surface air–sea flux forcing versus the preconditioning stratification in controlling the variations in the late winter mixed layer depth is quantified using both a simple upper-ocean heat conservation model and a bulk mixed layer model. The majority of the variance (∼80%) is found to be due to the stratification changes controlled by the dynamic state of the KE system.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Dept. of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: bo@soest.hawaii.edu

Abstract

In situ temperature and altimetrically derived sea surface height data are used to investigate the low-frequency variations in the formation of the North Pacific Ocean Subtropical Mode Water (STMW) over the past 12 yr. Inside the Kuroshio Extension (KE) recirculation gyre where STMW forms, the dominant signal is characterized by a gradual thinning in the late winter mixed layer depth and in the 16°–18°C thermostad layer from 1993 to 1999 and a subsequent steady thickening of these features after 2000. This same decadal signal is also seen in the low-potential-vorticity (PV) STMW layer in the interior subtropical gyre south of the recirculation gyre. By analyzing the air–sea flux data from the NCEP–NCAR reanalysis project, little correlation is found between the decadal STMW signal and the year-to-year changes in the cumulative wintertime surface cooling. In contrast, the decadal signal is found to be closely related to variability in the dynamic state of the KE system. Specifically, STMW formation is reduced when the KE path is in a variable state, during which time high regional eddy variability infuses high-PV KE water into the recirculation gyre, increasing the upper-ocean stratification and hindering the development of a deep winter mixed layer. A stable KE path, on the other hand, favors the maintenance of a weak stratification, leading to a deep winter mixed layer and formation of a thick STMW layer. The relative importance of the surface air–sea flux forcing versus the preconditioning stratification in controlling the variations in the late winter mixed layer depth is quantified using both a simple upper-ocean heat conservation model and a bulk mixed layer model. The majority of the variance (∼80%) is found to be due to the stratification changes controlled by the dynamic state of the KE system.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Dept. of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Rd., Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: bo@soest.hawaii.edu

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