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Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Peter B. Rhines, and Charles C. Eriksen

Abstract

Deep convection—the process by which surface waters are mixed down to 1000 m or deeper—forms the primary downwelling of the meridional overturning circulation in the Northern Hemisphere. High-resolution hydrographic measurements from Seagliders indicate that during deep convection—though water is well mixed vertically—there is substantial horizontal variation in density over short distances (tens of kilometers). This horizontal density variability present in winter (January–February) contains sufficient buoyancy to restratify the convecting region to observed levels 2.5 months later, as estimated from Argo floating platforms. These results highlight the importance of small-scale heterogeneities in the ocean that are typically poorly represented in climate models, potentially contributing to the difficulty climate models have in representing deep convection.

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Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Charles C. Eriksen, Peter B. Rhines, and Ramsey R. Harcourt

Abstract

Vertical velocities in the world’s oceans are typically small, less than 1 cm s−1, posing a significant challenge for observational techniques. Seaglider, an autonomous profiling instrument, can be used to estimate vertical water velocity in the ocean. Using a Seaglider’s flight model and pressure observations, vertical water velocities are estimated along glider trajectories in the Labrador Sea before, during, and after deep convection. Results indicate that vertical velocities in the stratified ocean agree with the theoretical Wentzel–Kramers–Brillouin (WKB) scaling of w; and in the turbulent mixed layer, scale with buoyancy, and wind forcing. It is estimated that accuracy is to within 0.5 cm s−1. Because of uncertainties in the flight model, velocities are poor near the surface and deep apogees, and during extended roll maneuvers. Some of this may be improved by using a dynamic flight model permitting acceleration and by better constraining flight parameters through pilot choices during the mission.

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Shane Elipot, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Chris W. Hughes, and Josh K. Willis

Abstract

Analyses of meridional transport time series from the Rapid Climate Change–Meridional Overturning Circulation (RAPID MOC) array at 26°N and from Argo float and altimetry data at 41°N reveal that, at semiannual and longer time scales, the contribution from the western boundary dominates the variability of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC), defined as the transport in the upper 1000 m of the ocean. Because the variability of the western boundary contribution is associated with a geostrophic overturning, it is reflected in independent estimates of transports from gradient of ocean bottom pressure (OBP) relative to and below 1000 m on the continental slope of the western boundary at three nominal latitudes (26°, 39°, and 42.5°N). Time series of western meridional transports relative to and below 1000 m derived from the OBP gradient, or equivalently derived from the transport shear profile, exhibit approximately the same phase relationship between 26° and 39°–42.5°N as the western contribution to the geostrophic MOC time series do: the western geostrophic MOC at 41°N precedes the MOC at 26°N by approximately a quarter of an annual cycle, resulting in a zero correlation at this time scale. This study therefore demonstrates how OBP gradients on basin boundaries can be used to monitor the MOC and its meridional coherence.

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Shane Elipot, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Chris W. Hughes, Sofia Olhede, and Matthias Lankhorst

Abstract

The response of the North Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC) to wind stress forcing is investigated from an observational standpoint, using four time series of overturning transports below and relative to 1000 m, overlapping by 3.6 yr. These time series are derived from four mooring arrays located on the western boundary of the North Atlantic: the RAPID Western Atlantic Variability Experiment (WAVE) array (42.5°N), the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Line W array (39°N), RAPID–MOC/MOCHA (26.5°N), and the Meridional Overturning Variability Experiment (MOVE) array (16°N). Using modal decompositions of the analytic cross-correlation between transports and wind stress, the basin-scale wind stress is shown to significantly drive the MOC coherently at four latitudes, on the time scales available for this study. The dominant mode of covariance is interpreted as rapid barotropic oceanic adjustments to wind stress forcing, eventually forming two counterrotating Ekman overturning cells centered on the tropics and subtropical gyre. A second mode of covariance appears related to patterns of wind stress and wind stress curl associated with the North Atlantic Oscillation, spinning anomalous horizontal circulations that likely interact with topography to form overturning cells.

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Bieito Fernández-Castro, Dafydd Gwyn Evans, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Clément Vic, and Alberto C. Naveira-Garabato

Abstract

A 4-month glider mission was analyzed to assess turbulent dissipation in an anticyclonic eddy at the western boundary of the subtropical North Atlantic. The eddy (radius ≈ 60 km) had a core of low potential vorticity between 100 and 450 m, with maximum radial velocities of 0.5 m s−1 and Rossby number ≈ −0.1. Turbulent dissipation was inferred from vertical water velocities derived from the glider flight model. Dissipation was suppressed in the eddy core (ε ≈ 5 × 10−10 W kg−1) and enhanced below it (>10−9 W kg−1). Elevated dissipation was coincident with quasiperiodic structures in the vertical velocity and pressure perturbations, suggesting internal waves as the drivers of dissipation. A heuristic ray-tracing approximation was used to investigate the wave–eddy interactions leading to turbulent dissipation. Ray-tracing simulations were consistent with two types of wave–eddy interactions that may induce dissipation: the trapping of near-inertial wave energy by the eddy’s relative vorticity, or the entry of an internal tide (generated at the nearby continental slope) to a critical layer in the eddy shear. The latter scenario suggests that the intense mesoscale field characterizing the western boundaries of ocean basins might act as a “leaky wall” controlling the propagation of internal tides into the basin’s interior.

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James A. Carton, Stuart A. Cunningham, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Young-Oh Kwon, David P. Marshall, and Rym Msadek
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Carl P. Spingys, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, Sonya Legg, Kurt L. Polzin, E. Povl Abrahamsen, Christian E. Buckingham, Alexander Forryan, and Eleanor E. Frajka-Williams

Abstract

Water-mass transformation by turbulent mixing is a key part of the deep-ocean overturning, as it drives the upwelling of dense waters formed at high latitudes. Here, we quantify this transformation and its underpinning processes in a small Southern Ocean basin: the Orkney Deep. Observations reveal a focusing of the transport in density space as a deep western boundary current (DWBC) flows through the region, associated with lightening and densification of the current’s denser and lighter layers, respectively. These transformations are driven by vigorous turbulent mixing. Comparing this transformation with measurements of the rate of turbulent kinetic energy dissipation indicates that, within the DWBC, turbulence operates with a high mixing efficiency, characterized by a dissipation ratio of 0.6 to 1 that exceeds the common value of 0.2. This result is corroborated by estimates of the dissipation ratio from microstructure observations. The causes of the transformation are unraveled through a decomposition into contributions dependent on the gradients in density space of the: dianeutral mixing rate, isoneutral area, and stratification. The transformation is found to be primarily driven by strong turbulence acting on an abrupt transition from the weakly stratified bottom boundary layer to well-stratified off-boundary waters. The reduced boundary layer stratification is generated by a downslope Ekman flow associated with the DWBC’s flow along sloping topography, and is further regulated by submesoscale instabilities acting to restratify near-boundary waters. Our results provide observational evidence endorsing the importance of near-boundary mixing processes to deep-ocean overturning, and highlight the role of DWBCs as hot spots of dianeutral upwelling.

Open access
Joël J.-M. Hirschi, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Adam T. Blaker, Bablu Sinha, Andrew Coward, Pat Hyder, Arne Biastoch, Claus Böning, Bernard Barnier, Thierry Penduff, Ixetl Garcia, Filippa Fransner, and Gurvan Madec

Abstract

Satellite observations and output from a high-resolution ocean model are used to investigate how the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico affects the Gulf Stream transport through the Florida Straits. We find that the expansion (contraction) of the Loop Current leads to lower (higher) transports through the Straits of Florida. The associated surface velocity anomalies are coherent from the southwestern tip of Florida to Cape Hatteras. A simple continuity-based argument can be used to explain the link between the Loop Current and the downstream Gulf Stream transport: as the Loop Current lengthens (shortens) its path in the Gulf of Mexico, the flow out of the Gulf decreases (increases). Anomalies in the surface velocity field are first seen to the southwest of Florida and within 4 weeks propagate through the Florida Straits up to Cape Hatteras and into the Gulf Stream Extension. In both the observations and the model this propagation can be seen as pulses in the surface velocities. We estimate that the Loop Current variability can be linked to a variability of several Sverdrups (1Sv = 106 m3 s−1) through the Florida Straits. The exact timing of the Loop Current variability is largely unpredictable beyond a few weeks and its variability is therefore likely a major contributor to the chaotic/intrinsic variability of the Gulf Stream. However, the time lag between the Loop Current and the flow downstream of the Gulf of Mexico means that if a lengthening/shortening of the Loop Current is observed this introduces some predictability in the downstream flow for a few weeks.

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Molly Baringer, Mariana B. Bif, Tim Boyer, Seth M. Bushinsky, Brendan R. Carter, Ivona Cetinić, Don P. Chambers, Lijing Cheng, Sanai Chiba, Minhan Dai, Catia M. Domingues, Shenfu Dong, Andrea J. Fassbender, Richard A. Feely, Eleanor Frajka-Williams, Bryan A. Franz, John Gilson, Gustavo Goni, Benjamin D. Hamlington, Zeng-Zhen Hu, Boyin Huang, Masayoshi Ishii, Svetlana Jevrejeva, William E. Johns, Gregory C. Johnson, Kenneth S. Johnson, John Kennedy, Marion Kersalé, Rachel E. Killick, Peter Landschützer, Matthias Lankhorst, Tong Lee, Eric Leuliette, Feili Li, Eric Lindstrom, Ricardo Locarnini, Susan Lozier, John M. Lyman, John J. Marra, Christopher S. Meinen, Mark A. Merrifield, Gary T. Mitchum, Ben Moat, Didier Monselesan, R. Steven Nerem, Renellys C. Perez, Sarah G. Purkey, Darren Rayner, James Reagan, Nicholas Rome, Alejandra Sanchez-Franks, Claudia Schmid, Joel P. Scott, Uwe Send, David A. Siegel, David A. Smeed, Sabrina Speich, Paul W. Stackhouse Jr., William Sweet, Yuichiro Takeshita, Philip R. Thompson, Joaquin A. Triñanes, Martin Visbeck, Denis L. Volkov, Rik Wanninkhof, Robert A. Weller, Toby K. Westberry, Matthew J. Widlansky, Susan E. Wijffels, Anne C. Wilber, Lisan Yu, Weidong Yu, and Huai-Min Zhang
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