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The Western North Atlantic Shelfbreak Current System in Summer

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  • 1 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Twelve years of historical hydrographic data, spanning the period 1990–2001, are analyzed to examine the along-stream evolution of the western North Atlantic Ocean shelfbreak front and current, following its path between the west coast of Greenland and the Middle Atlantic Bight. Over 700 synoptic sections are used to construct a mean three-dimensional description of the summer shelfbreak front and to quantify the along-stream evolution in properties, including frontal strength and grounding position. Results show that there are actually two fronts in the northern part of the domain—a shallow front located near the shelf break and a deeper front centered in the core of Irminger Water over the upper slope. The properties of the deeper Irminger front erode gradually to the south, and the front disappears entirely near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The shallow shelfbreak front is identifiable throughout the domain, and its properties exhibit large variations from north to south, with the largest changes occurring near the Tail of the Grand Banks. Despite these structural changes, and large variations in topography, the foot of the shelfbreak front remains within 20 km of the shelf break. The hydrographic sections are also used to examine the evolution of the baroclinic velocity field and its associated volume transport. The baroclinic velocity structure consists of a single velocity core that is stronger and penetrates deeper where the Irminger front is present. The baroclinic volume transport decreases by equal amounts at the southern end of the Labrador Shelf and at the Tail of the Grand Banks. Overall, the results suggest that the Grand Banks is a geographically critical location in the North Atlantic shelfbreak system.

Corresponding author address: Paula S. Fratantoni, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: pfratantoni@whoi.edu

Abstract

Twelve years of historical hydrographic data, spanning the period 1990–2001, are analyzed to examine the along-stream evolution of the western North Atlantic Ocean shelfbreak front and current, following its path between the west coast of Greenland and the Middle Atlantic Bight. Over 700 synoptic sections are used to construct a mean three-dimensional description of the summer shelfbreak front and to quantify the along-stream evolution in properties, including frontal strength and grounding position. Results show that there are actually two fronts in the northern part of the domain—a shallow front located near the shelf break and a deeper front centered in the core of Irminger Water over the upper slope. The properties of the deeper Irminger front erode gradually to the south, and the front disappears entirely near the Grand Banks of Newfoundland. The shallow shelfbreak front is identifiable throughout the domain, and its properties exhibit large variations from north to south, with the largest changes occurring near the Tail of the Grand Banks. Despite these structural changes, and large variations in topography, the foot of the shelfbreak front remains within 20 km of the shelf break. The hydrographic sections are also used to examine the evolution of the baroclinic velocity field and its associated volume transport. The baroclinic velocity structure consists of a single velocity core that is stronger and penetrates deeper where the Irminger front is present. The baroclinic volume transport decreases by equal amounts at the southern end of the Labrador Shelf and at the Tail of the Grand Banks. Overall, the results suggest that the Grand Banks is a geographically critical location in the North Atlantic shelfbreak system.

Corresponding author address: Paula S. Fratantoni, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: pfratantoni@whoi.edu

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