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Geoffrey Gebbie
and
Peter Huybers

Abstract

Ocean tracer distributions have long been used to decompose the deep ocean into constituent water masses, but previous inverse methods have generally been limited to just a few water masses that have been defined by a subjective choice of static property combinations. Through air–sea interaction and upper-ocean processes, all surface locations are potential sources of distinct tracer properties, and thus it is natural to define a distinct water type for each surface site. Here, a new box inversion method is developed to explore the contributions of all surface locations to the ocean interior, as well as the degree to which the observed tracer fields can be explained by a steady-state circulation with unchanging surface-boundary conditions. The total matrix intercomparison (TMI) method is a novel way to invert observations to solve for the pathways connecting every surface point to every interior point. In the limiting case that the circulation is steady and that five conservative tracers are perfectly observed, the TMI method unambiguously recovers the complete pathways information, owing to the fact that each grid box has, at most, six neighbors. Modern-day climatologies of temperature, salinity, phosphate, nitrate, oxygen, and oxygen-18/oxygen-16 isotope ratios are simultaneously inverted at 4° × 4° grid resolution with 33 vertical levels. Using boundary conditions at the surface and seafloor, the entire interior distribution of the observed tracers is reconstructed using the TMI method. Assuming that seafloor fluxes of tracer properties can be neglected, the method suggests that 25% or less of the water residing in the deep North Pacific originated in the North Atlantic. Integrating over the global ocean, the Southern Ocean is dominant, as the inversion indicates that almost 60% of the ocean volume originates from south of the Southern Hemisphere subtropical front.

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Geoffrey Gebbie
and
Peter Huybers

Abstract

A number of previous observational studies have found that the waters of the deep Pacific Ocean have an age, or elapsed time since contact with the surface, of 700–1000 yr. Numerical models suggest ages twice as old. Here, the authors present an inverse framework to determine the mean age and its upper and lower bounds given Global Ocean Data Analysis Project (GLODAP) radiocarbon observations, and they show that the potential range of ages increases with the number of constituents or sources that are included in the analysis. The inversion requires decomposing the World Ocean into source waters, which is obtained here using the total matrix intercomparison (TMI) method at up to 2° × 2° horizontal resolution with 11 113 surface sources. The authors find that the North Pacific at 2500-m depth can be no younger than 1100 yr old, which is older than some previous observational estimates. Accounting for the broadness of surface regions where waters originate leads to a reservoir-age correction of almost 100 yr smaller than would be estimated with a two or three water-mass decomposition and explains some of the discrepancy with previous observational studies. A best estimate of mean age is also presented using the mixing history along circulation pathways. Subject to the caveats that inference of the mixing history would benefit from further observations and that radiocarbon cannot rule out the presence of extremely old waters from exotic sources, the deep North Pacific waters are 1200–1500 yr old, which is more in line with existing numerical model results.

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Peter Huybers
,
Geoffrey Gebbie
, and
Olivier Marchal

Abstract

The ability of paleoceanographic tracers to constrain rates of transport is examined using an inverse method to combine idealized observations with a geostrophic model. Considered are the spatial distribution, accuracy, and types of tracers required to constrain changes in meridional transport within an idealized single-hemisphere basin. Measurements of density and radioactive tracers each act to constrain rates of transport. Conservative tracers, while not of themselves able to inform regarding rates of transport, improve constraints when coupled with density or radioactive observations. It is found that the tracer data would require an accuracy one order of magnitude better than is presently available for paleo-observations to conclusively rule out factor-of-2 changes in meridional transport, even when assumed available over the entire model domain. When data are available only at the margins and bottom of the model, radiocarbon is unable to constrain transport while density remains effective only when a reference velocity level is assumed. The difficulty in constraining the circulation in this idealized model indicates that placing firm bounds on past meridional transport rates will prove challenging.

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