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Gaël Forget

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This paper exploits a new observational atlas for the near-global ocean for the best-observed 3-yr period from December 2003 through November 2006. The atlas consists of mapped observations and derived quantities. Together they form a full representation of the ocean state and its seasonal cycle. The mapped observations are primarily altimeter data, satellite SST, and Argo profiles. GCM interpolation is used to synthesize these datasets, and the resulting atlas is a fairly close fit to each one of them. For observed quantities especially, the atlas is a practical means to evaluate free-running GCM simulations and to put field experiments into a broader context. The atlas-derived quantities include the middepth dynamic topography, as well as ocean fluxes of heat and salt–freshwater. The atlas is publicly available online (www.ecco-group.org). This paper provides insight into two oceanographic problems that are the subject of vigorous ongoing research. First, regarding ocean circulation estimates, it can be inferred that the RMS uncertainty in modern surface dynamic topography (SDT) estimates is only on the order of 3.5 cm at scales beyond 300 km. In that context, it is found that assumptions of “reference-level” dynamic topography may yield significant errors (of order 2.2 cm or more) in SDT estimates using in situ data. Second, in the perspective of mode water investigations, it is estimated that ocean fluxes (advection plus mixing) largely contribute to the seasonal fluctuation in heat content and freshwater/salt content. Hence, representing the seasonal cycle as a simple interplay of air–sea flux and ocean storage would not yield a meaningful approximation. For the salt–freshwater seasonal cycle especially, contributions from ocean fluxes usually exceed direct air–sea flux contributions.

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Gaël Forget and Carl Wunsch

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An estimate is made of the three-dimensional global oceanic temperature and salinity variability, omitting the seasonal cycle, both as a major descriptive element of the ocean circulation and for use in the error estimates of state estimation. Historical hydrography, recent data from the World Ocean Circulation Experiment, and Argo profile data are all used. Root-mean-square vertical displacements in the upper 300 m of the ocean are generally smaller than 50 m, except in energetic boundary currents and in the North Atlantic subpolar gyre. Variability in temperature and salinity is strongly correlated below the top 100 m. Salinity contributions to sea surface height variability appear more significant at low latitudes than expected, possibly resulting from advective and diffusive processes. Results are generally consistent with altimetric variability under two simple kinematic hypotheses, and much of the observed structure coincides with known dynamical features. A large fraction of the sea surface height variability is consistent with the hypothesis of dominance of the first baroclinic mode.

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Katherine McCaffrey, Baylor Fox-Kemper, and Gael Forget

Abstract

The Argo profiling float network has repeatedly sampled much of the World Ocean. This study uses Argo temperature and salinity data to form the tracer structure function of ocean variability at the macroscale (10–1000 km, mesoscale and above). Here, second-order temperature and salinity structure functions over horizontal separations are calculated along either pressure or potential density surfaces, which allows analysis of both active and passive tracer structure functions. Using Argo data, a map of global variance is created from the climatological average and each datum. When turbulence is homogeneous, the structure function slope from Argo can be related to the wavenumber spectrum slope in ocean temperature or salinity variability. This first application of structure function techniques to Argo data gives physically meaningful results based on bootstrapped confidence intervals, showing geographical dependence of the structure functions with slopes near ⅔ on average, independent of depth.

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Ayan H. Chaudhuri, Rui M. Ponte, Gael Forget, and Patrick Heimbach

Abstract

This paper investigates the uncertainties related to atmospheric fields from reanalysis products used in forcing ocean models. Four reanalysis products, namely from 1) the interim ECMWF Re-Analysis (ERA-Interim), 2) version 2 of the Common Reference Ocean–Ice Experiments (CORE2), 3) the 25-Year Japanese Reanalysis Project (JRA-25), and 4) NCEP–NCAR, are evaluated against satellite-derived observations for eight different fields (zonal and meridional winds, precipitation, specific humidity, continental discharge, surface air temperature, and downwelling longwave and shortwave radiation fluxes). No single product is found to agree better in all fields with satellite-derived observations. Reanalysis products are mostly comparable to each other because of their similar physical assumptions and assimilation of common observations. Adjusted atmospheric fields from the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) optimizations are also in agreement with other reanalysis products. Time-mean and time-variable errors are estimated separately and mapped globally in space, based on 14-day average fields to focus on monthly to interannual periods. Time-variable errors are larger in comparison to the signal than time-mean errors for most fields, thus justifying the need to separate them for studying uncertainties as well as formulating optimization procedures. Precipitation and wind stress fields show significant time-mean and time-variable errors whereas downwelling radiation, air temperature, and humidity fields show small time-mean errors but large time-variable errors, particularly in the tropics. Uncertainties based on evaluating multiple products presented here are considerably larger than uncertainties based on single product pairs.

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Martha W. Buckley, Rui M. Ponte, Gaël Forget, and Patrick Heimbach
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Gaël Forget, Guillaume Maze, Martha Buckley, and John Marshall

Abstract

The seasonal cycle in the volume and formation rate of Eighteen Degree Water (EDW) in the North Atlantic is quantified over the 3-yr period from 2004 to 2006. The EDW layer is defined as all waters that have a temperature between 17° and 19°C. The study is facilitated by a synthesis of various observations—principally Argo profiles of temperature and salinity, sea surface temperature, and altimetry—using a general circulation model as an interpolation tool. The winter increase in EDW volume is most pronounced in February, peaking at about 8.6 Svy, where 1 Svy ≈ 3.15 × 1013 m3 corresponding to a 1 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) flow sustained for one year. This largely reflects winter EDW formation due to air–sea heat fluxes. Over the remainder of the year, newly created EDW is consumed by air–sea heat fluxes and ocean mixing, which roughly contribute ⅔ and ⅓, respectively. The authors estimate a net annual volume increase of 1.4 Svy, averaged over the 3-yr period. It is small compared to the amplitude of the seasonal cycle (8.6 Svy) and annual formation due to air–sea fluxes (4.6 Svy). The overall EDW layer volume thus appears to fluctuate around a stable point during the study period. An estimate of the full EDW volume budget is provided along with an uncertainty estimate of 1.8 Svy, and largely resolves apparent conflicts between previous estimates.

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Guillaume Maze, Gael Forget, Martha Buckley, John Marshall, and Ivana Cerovecki

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The Walin water mass framework quantifies the rate at which water is transformed from one temperature class to another by air–sea heat fluxes (transformation). The divergence of the transformation rate yields the rate at which a given temperature range is created or destroyed by air–sea heat fluxes (formation). Walin’s framework provides a precise integral statement at the expense of losing spatial information. In this study the integrand of Walin’s expression to yield transformation and formation maps is plotted and used to study the role of air–sea heat fluxes in the cycle of formation–destruction of the 18° ± 1°C layer in the North Atlantic.

Using remotely sensed sea surface temperatures and air–sea heat flux estimates based on both analyzed meteorological fields and ocean data–model syntheses for the 3-yr period from 2004 to 2006, the authors find that Eighteen Degree Water (EDW) is formed by air–sea heat fluxes in the western part of the subtropical gyre, just south of the Gulf Stream. The formation rate peaks in February when the EDW layer is thickened by convection owing to buoyancy loss. EDW is destroyed by air–sea heat fluxes from spring to summer over the entire subtropical gyre. In the annual mean there is net EDW formation in the west to the south of the Gulf Stream, and net destruction over the eastern part of the gyre. Results suggest that annual mean formation rates of EDW associated with air–sea fluxes are in the range from 3 to 5 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1). Finally, error estimates are computed from sea surface temperature and heat flux data using an ensemble perturbation method. The transformation/formation patterns are found to be robust and errors mostly affect integral quantities.

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Xinfeng Liang, Carl Wunsch, Patrick Heimbach, and Gael Forget

Abstract

Estimated values of recent oceanic heat uptake are on the order of a few tenths of a W m−2, and are a very small residual of air–sea exchanges, with annual average regional magnitudes of hundreds of W m−2. Using a dynamically consistent state estimate, the redistribution of heat within the ocean is calculated over a 20-yr period. The 20-yr mean vertical heat flux shows strong variations in both the lateral and vertical directions, consistent with the ocean being a dynamically active and spatially complex heat exchanger. Between mixing and advection, the two processes determining the vertical heat transport in the deep ocean, advection plays a more important role in setting the spatial patterns of vertical heat exchange and its temporal variations. The global integral of vertical heat flux shows an upward heat transport in the deep ocean, suggesting a cooling trend in the deep ocean. These results support an inference that the near-surface thermal properties of the ocean are a consequence, at least in part, of internal redistributions of heat, some of which must reflect water that has undergone long trajectories since last exposure to the atmosphere. The small residual heat exchange with the atmosphere today is unlikely to represent the interaction with an ocean that was in thermal equilibrium at the start of global warming. An analogy is drawn with carbon-14 “reservoir ages,” which range from over hundreds to a thousand years.

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Martha W. Buckley, Rui M. Ponte, Gaël Forget, and Patrick Heimbach

Abstract

A recent state estimate covering the period 1992–2010 from the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) project is utilized to quantify the roles of air–sea heat fluxes and advective heat transport convergences in setting upper-ocean heat content anomalies H in the North Atlantic Ocean on monthly to interannual time scales. Anomalies in (linear) advective heat transport convergences, as well as Ekman and geostrophic contributions, are decomposed into parts that are due to velocity variability, temperature variability, and their covariability. Ekman convergences are generally dominated by variability in Ekman mass transports, which reflect the instantaneous response to local wind forcing, except in the tropics, where variability in the temperature field plays a significant role. In contrast, both budget analyses and simple dynamical arguments demonstrate that geostrophic heat transport convergences that are due to temperature and velocity variability are anticorrelated, and thus their separate treatment is not insightful. In the interior of the subtropical gyre, the sum of air–sea heat fluxes and Ekman heat transport convergences is a reasonable measure of local atmospheric forcing, and such forcing explains the majority of H variability on all time scales resolved by ECCO. In contrast, in the Gulf Stream region and subpolar gyre, ocean dynamics are found to be important in setting H on interannual time scales. Air–sea heat fluxes damp anomalies created by the ocean and thus are not set by local atmospheric variability.

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Martha W. Buckley, Rui M. Ponte, Gaël Forget, and Patrick Heimbach

Abstract

A recent state estimate covering the period 1992–2010 from the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (ECCO) project is utilized to quantify the upper-ocean heat budget in the North Atlantic on monthly to interannual time scales (seasonal cycle removed). Three novel techniques are introduced: 1) the heat budget is integrated over the maximum climatological mixed layer depth (integral denoted as H), which gives results that are relevant for explaining SST while avoiding strong contributions from vertical diffusion and entrainment; 2) advective convergences are separated into Ekman and geostrophic parts, a technique that is successful away from ocean boundaries; and 3) air–sea heat fluxes and Ekman advection are combined into one local forcing term. The central results of our analysis are as follows: 1) In the interior of subtropical gyre, local forcing explains the majority of H variance on all time scales resolved by the ECCO estimate. 2) In the Gulf Stream region, low-frequency H anomalies are forced by geostrophic convergences and damped by air–sea heat fluxes. 3) In the interior of the subpolar gyre, diffusion and bolus transports play a leading order role in H variability, and these transports are correlated with low-frequency variability in wintertime mixed layer depths.

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