The Brazil Basin Tracer Release Experiment: Observations

James R. Ledwell aWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Abstract

Lightening of bottom water is required to close the abyssal overturning circulation, believed to play an important role in the climate system. A tracer release experiment and turbulence measurement programs have revealed how bottom water is lightened, and illuminated the associated circulation in the deep Brazil Basin, a representative region of the global ocean. Tracer was released on an isopycnal surface about 4000 m deep, over one of the fracture zones emanating from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). Tracer that mixed toward the bottom moved toward the MAR across isopycnal surfaces that bend down to intersect the bottom at a rate implying a near-bottom buoyancy flux of 1.5 × 10−9 m2 s−3, somewhat larger than inferred from dissipation measurements. The diffusivity at the level of the tracer release is estimated at 4.4 ± 1 × 10−4 m2 s−1, again larger than inferred from dissipation rates. The main patch moved southwest at about 2 cm s−1 while sinking due to the divergence of buoyancy flux above the bottom layer. The isopycnal eddy diffusivity was about 100 m2 s−1. Westward flow away from the MAR is the return flow balancing the eastward near-bottom upslope flow. The southward component of the flow is roughly consistent with conservation of potential vorticity. The circulation as well as the pattern of diapycnal flux are qualitatively the same as in St. Laurent et al. (2001) but are more robust. The results indicate that diapycnal diffusivity is about twice that invoked by Morris et al. (2001) in calculating the basinwide buoyancy budget.

Significance Statement

Buoyancy flux into the abyssal waters is required to close the overturning circulation of those waters, an important part of the climate system. This contribution presents a robust view of the strength of that buoyancy flux and the associated circulation.

Author Ledwell is deceased (see the acknowledgments).

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Abstract

Lightening of bottom water is required to close the abyssal overturning circulation, believed to play an important role in the climate system. A tracer release experiment and turbulence measurement programs have revealed how bottom water is lightened, and illuminated the associated circulation in the deep Brazil Basin, a representative region of the global ocean. Tracer was released on an isopycnal surface about 4000 m deep, over one of the fracture zones emanating from the Mid-Atlantic Ridge (MAR). Tracer that mixed toward the bottom moved toward the MAR across isopycnal surfaces that bend down to intersect the bottom at a rate implying a near-bottom buoyancy flux of 1.5 × 10−9 m2 s−3, somewhat larger than inferred from dissipation measurements. The diffusivity at the level of the tracer release is estimated at 4.4 ± 1 × 10−4 m2 s−1, again larger than inferred from dissipation rates. The main patch moved southwest at about 2 cm s−1 while sinking due to the divergence of buoyancy flux above the bottom layer. The isopycnal eddy diffusivity was about 100 m2 s−1. Westward flow away from the MAR is the return flow balancing the eastward near-bottom upslope flow. The southward component of the flow is roughly consistent with conservation of potential vorticity. The circulation as well as the pattern of diapycnal flux are qualitatively the same as in St. Laurent et al. (2001) but are more robust. The results indicate that diapycnal diffusivity is about twice that invoked by Morris et al. (2001) in calculating the basinwide buoyancy budget.

Significance Statement

Buoyancy flux into the abyssal waters is required to close the overturning circulation of those waters, an important part of the climate system. This contribution presents a robust view of the strength of that buoyancy flux and the associated circulation.

Author Ledwell is deceased (see the acknowledgments).

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

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