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Marina Azaneu, Karen J. Heywood, Bastien Y. Queste, and Andrew F. Thompson

Abstract

The dense water outflow from the Antarctic continental shelf is closely associated with the strength and position of the Antarctic Slope Front. This study explores the short-term and spatial variability of the Antarctic Slope Front system and the mechanisms that regulate cross-slope exchange using highly temporally and spatially resolved measurements from three ocean gliders deployed in 2012. The 22 sections along the eastern Antarctic Peninsula and west of the South Orkney Islands are grouped regionally and composited by isobaths. There is consistency in the front position around the Powell Basin, varying mostly between the 500- and 800-m isobaths. In most of the study area the flow is bottom intensified. The along-slope transport of the Antarctic Slope Current (upper 1000 m) varies between 0.2 and 5.9 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) and does not exhibit a regional pattern. The magnitude of the velocity field shows substantial variability, up to twice its mean value. Higher eddy kinetic energy (0.003 m2 s−2) is observed in sections with dense water, possibly because of baroclinic instabilities in the bottom layer. Distributions of potential vorticity show an increase toward the shelf along isopycnals and also in the dense water layer. Glider sections located west of the South Orkney Islands indicate a northward direction of the flow associated with the Weddell Front, which differs from previous estimates of the mean circulation. This study provides some of the first observational confirmation of the high-frequency variability associated with an active eddy field that has been suggested by recent numerical simulations in this region.

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Madeleine K. Youngs, Andrew F. Thompson, M. Mar Flexas, and Karen J. Heywood

Abstract

The complex export pathways that connect the surface waters of the Weddell Sea with the Antarctic Circumpolar Current influence water mass modification, nutrient fluxes, and ecosystem dynamics. To study this exchange, 40 surface drifters, equipped with temperature sensors, were released into the northwestern Weddell Sea’s continental shelf and slope frontal system in late January 2012. Comparison of the drifter trajectories with a similar deployment in early February 2007 provides insight into the interannual variability of the surface circulation in this region. Observed differences in the 2007 and 2012 drifter trajectories are related to a variable surface circulation responding to changes in wind stress curl over the Weddell Gyre. Differences between northwestern Weddell Sea properties in 2007 and 2012 include 1) an enhanced cyclonic wind stress forcing over the Weddell Gyre in 2012; 2) an acceleration of the Antarctic Slope Current (ASC) and an offshore shift of the primary drifter export pathway in 2012; and 3) a strengthening of the Coastal Current (CC) over the continental shelf in 2007. The relationship between wind stress forcing and surface circulation is reproduced over a longer time period in virtual drifter deployments advected by a remotely sensed surface velocity product. The mean offshore position and speed of the drifter trajectories are correlated with the wind stress curl over the Weddell Gyre, although with different temporal lags. The drifter observations are consistent with recent modeling studies suggesting that Weddell Sea boundary current variability can significantly impact the rate and source of exported surface waters to the Scotia Sea, a process that determines regional chlorophyll distributions.

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Loic Jullion, Karen J. Heywood, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, and David P. Stevens

Abstract

The confluence between the Brazil Current and the Malvinas Current [the Brazil–Malvinas Confluence (BMC)] in the Argentine Basin is characterized by a complicated thermohaline structure favoring the exchanges of mass, heat, and salt between the subtropical gyre and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC). Analysis of thermohaline properties of hydrographic sections in the BMC reveals strong interactions between the ACC and subtropical fronts. In the Subantarctic Front, Subantarctic Mode Water (SAMW), Antarctic Intermediate Water (AAIW), and Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) warm (become saltier) by 0.4° (0.08), 0.3° (0.02), and 0.6°C (0.1), respectively. In the subtropical gyre, AAIW and North Atlantic Deep Water have cooled (freshened) by 0.4° (0.07) and 0.7°C (0.11), respectively.

To quantify those ACC–subtropical gyre interactions, a box inverse model surrounding the confluence is built. The model diagnoses a subduction of 16 ± 4 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) of newly formed SAMW and AAIW under the subtropical gyre corresponding to about half of the total subduction rate of the South Atlantic found in previous studies. Cross-frontal heat (0.06 PW) and salt (2.4 × 1012 kg s−1) gains by the ACC in the BMC contribute to the meridional poleward heat and salt fluxes across the ACC. These estimates correspond to perhaps half of the total cross-ACC poleward heat flux. The authors’ results highlight the BMC as a key region in the subtropical–ACC exchanges.

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Michel Arhan, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, Karen J. Heywood, and David P. Stevens

Abstract

Hydrographic and lowered acoustic Doppler current profiler data along a line from the Falkland Islands to South Georgia via the Maurice Ewing Bank are used to estimate the flow of circumpolar water into the Argentine Basin, and to study the interaction of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current with the Falkland Plateau.

The estimated net transport of 129 ± 21 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) across the section is shared between three major current bands. One is associated with the Subantarctic Front (SAF; 52 ± 6 Sv), and the other two with branches of the Polar Front (PF) over the sill of the Falkland Plateau (44 ± 9 Sv) and in the northwestern Georgia Basin (45 ± 9 Sv). The latter includes a local reinforcement (∼20 Sv) by a deep anticyclonic recirculation around the Maurice Ewing Bank. While the classical hydrographic signature of the PF stands out in this eastbound branch, it is less distinguishable in the northbound branch over the plateau. Other circulation features are a southward entrainment of diluted North Atlantic Deep Water from the Argentine Basin over the eastern part of the Falkland Plateau, and an abyssal anticyclonic flow in the western Georgia Basin, opposite to what was generally assumed.

The different behavior of the SAF and PF at the Falkland Plateau (no structural modification of the former and partitioning of the latter) is attributed to the PF being deeper than the sill depth on the upstream side of the plateau, unlike the SAF. It is suggested that the partitioning takes place at a location where the 2500-m and 3000-m isobaths diverge at the southern edge of the plateau. The western branch of the PF crosses the plateau at a distance of ∼250 km to the east of the SAF. Comparison with a section across the Falkland Current farther downstream shows that its deep part subsequently joins the SAF on the northern side of the plateau where the 2000–3000 m isobaths converge in the steep Falkland Escarpment. The result of this two-stage bathymetric effect is a net transfer of at least 10 Sv from the PF to the SAF at the crossing of the Falkland Plateau.

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Andrew F. Thompson, Ayah Lazar, Christian Buckingham, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, Gillian M. Damerell, and Karen J. Heywood

Abstract

The importance of submesoscale instabilities, particularly mixed layer baroclinic instability and symmetric instability, on upper-ocean mixing and energetics is well documented in regions of strong, persistent fronts such as the Kuroshio and the Gulf Stream. Less attention has been devoted to studying submesoscale flows in the open ocean, far from long-term, mean geostrophic fronts, characteristic of a large proportion of the global ocean. This study presents a year-long, submesoscale-resolving time series of near-surface buoyancy gradients, potential vorticity, and instability characteristics, collected by ocean gliders, that provides insight into open-ocean submesoscale dynamics over a full annual cycle. The gliders continuously sampled a 225 km2 region in the subtropical northeast Atlantic, measuring temperature, salinity, and pressure along 292 short (~20 km) hydrographic sections. Glider observations show a seasonal cycle in near-surface stratification. Throughout the fall (September–November), the mixed layer deepens, predominantly through gravitational instability, indicating that surface cooling dominates submesoscale restratification processes. During winter (December–March), mixed layer depths are more variable, and estimates of the balanced Richardson number, which measures the relative importance of lateral and vertical buoyancy gradients, depict conditions favorable to symmetric instability. The importance of mixed layer instabilities on the restratification of the mixed layer, as compared with surface heating and cooling, shows that submesoscale processes can reverse the sign of an equivalent heat flux up to 25% of the time during winter. These results demonstrate that the open-ocean mixed layer hosts various forced and unforced instabilities, which become more prevalent during winter, and emphasize that accurate parameterizations of submesoscale processes are needed throughout the ocean.

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