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Equatorward Pathways of Solomon Sea Water Masses and Their Modifications

Angélique MeletLEGI, UMR5519, CNRS, Université de Grenoble, Grenoble, France

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Jacques VerronLEGI, UMR5519, CNRS, Université de Grenoble, Grenoble, France

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Lionel GourdeauLEGOS, UMR5566, IRD, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France

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Ariane Koch-LarrouyLEGOS, UMR5566, IRD, CNRS, Université Paul Sabatier, Toulouse, France

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Abstract

The Solomon Sea is a key region of the southwest Pacific Ocean, connecting the thermocline subtropics to the equator via western boundary currents (WBCs). Modifications to water masses are thought to occur in this region because of the significant mixing induced by internal tides, eddies, and the WBCs. Despite their potential influence on the equatorial Pacific thermocline temperature and salinity and their related impact on the low-frequency modulation of El Niño–Southern Oscillation, modifications to water masses in the Solomon Sea have never been analyzed to our knowledge. A high-resolution model incorporating a tidal mixing parameterization was implemented to depict and analyze water mass modifications and the Solomon Sea pathways to the equator in a Lagrangian quantitative framework. The main routes from the Solomon Sea to the equatorial Pacific occur through the Vitiaz and Solomon straits, in the thermocline and intermediate layers, and mainly originate from the Solomon Sea south inflow and from the Solomon Strait itself. Water mass modifications in the model are characterized by a reduction of the vertical temperature and salinity gradients over the water column: the high salinity of upper thermocline water [Subtropical Mode Water (STMW)] is eroded and exported toward surface and deeper layers, whereas a downward heat transfer occurs over the water column. Consequently, the thermocline water temperature is cooled by 0.15°–0.3°C from the Solomon Sea inflows to the equatorward outflows. This temperature modification could weaken the STMW anomalies advected by the subtropical cell and thereby diminish the potential influence of these anomalies on the tropical climate. The Solomon Sea water mass modifications can be partially explained (≈60%) by strong diapycnal mixing in the Solomon Sea. As for STMW, about a third of this mixing is due to tidal mixing.

Corresponding author address: Angélique Melet, Laboratoire des Ecoulements Géophysiques et Industriels, MEOM, BP 53 X, Grenoble CEDEX, France. E-mail: melet@hmg.inpg.fr

Abstract

The Solomon Sea is a key region of the southwest Pacific Ocean, connecting the thermocline subtropics to the equator via western boundary currents (WBCs). Modifications to water masses are thought to occur in this region because of the significant mixing induced by internal tides, eddies, and the WBCs. Despite their potential influence on the equatorial Pacific thermocline temperature and salinity and their related impact on the low-frequency modulation of El Niño–Southern Oscillation, modifications to water masses in the Solomon Sea have never been analyzed to our knowledge. A high-resolution model incorporating a tidal mixing parameterization was implemented to depict and analyze water mass modifications and the Solomon Sea pathways to the equator in a Lagrangian quantitative framework. The main routes from the Solomon Sea to the equatorial Pacific occur through the Vitiaz and Solomon straits, in the thermocline and intermediate layers, and mainly originate from the Solomon Sea south inflow and from the Solomon Strait itself. Water mass modifications in the model are characterized by a reduction of the vertical temperature and salinity gradients over the water column: the high salinity of upper thermocline water [Subtropical Mode Water (STMW)] is eroded and exported toward surface and deeper layers, whereas a downward heat transfer occurs over the water column. Consequently, the thermocline water temperature is cooled by 0.15°–0.3°C from the Solomon Sea inflows to the equatorward outflows. This temperature modification could weaken the STMW anomalies advected by the subtropical cell and thereby diminish the potential influence of these anomalies on the tropical climate. The Solomon Sea water mass modifications can be partially explained (≈60%) by strong diapycnal mixing in the Solomon Sea. As for STMW, about a third of this mixing is due to tidal mixing.

Corresponding author address: Angélique Melet, Laboratoire des Ecoulements Géophysiques et Industriels, MEOM, BP 53 X, Grenoble CEDEX, France. E-mail: melet@hmg.inpg.fr
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