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Isabela Astiz Le Bras, Steven R. Jayne, and John M. Toole

Abstract

Motivated by the proximity of the Northern Recirculation Gyre and the deep western boundary current in the North Atlantic, an idealized model is used to investigate how recirculation gyres and a deep flow along a topographic slope interact. In this two-layer quasigeostrophic model, an unstable jet imposed in the upper layer generates barotropic recirculation gyres. These are maintained by an eddy-mean balance of potential vorticity (PV) in steady state. The authors show that the topographic slope can constrain the northern recirculation gyre meridionally and that the gyre’s adjustment to the slope leads to increased eddy PV fluxes at the base of the slope. When a deep current is present along the topographic slope in the lower layer, these eddy PV fluxes stir the deep current and recirculation gyre waters. Increased proximity to the slope dampens the eddy growth rate within the unstable jet, altering the geometry of recirculation gyre forcing and leading to a decrease in overall eddy PV fluxes. These mechanisms may shape the circulation in the western North Atlantic, with potential feedbacks on the climate system.

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Isabela Alexander-Astiz Le Bras, Maike Sonnewald, and John M. Toole

Abstract

To ground truth the large-scale dynamical balance of the North Atlantic subtropical gyre with observations, a barotropic vorticity budget is constructed in the ECCO state estimate and compared with hydrographic observations and wind stress data products. The hydrographic dataset at the center of this work is the A22 WOCE section, which lies along 66°W and creates a closed volume with the North and South American coasts to its west. The planetary vorticity flux across A22 is quantified, providing a metric for the net meridional flow in the western subtropical gyre. The wind stress forcing over the subtropical gyre to the west and east of the A22 section is calculated from several wind stress data products. These observational budget terms are found to be consistent with an approximate barotropic Sverdrup balance in the eastern subtropical gyre and are on the same order as budget terms in the ECCO state estimate. The ECCO vorticity budget is closed by bottom pressure torques in the western subtropical gyre, which is consistent with previous studies. In sum, the analysis provides observational ground truth for the North Atlantic subtropical vorticity balance and explores the seasonal variability of this balance for the first time using the ECCO state estimate. This balance is found to hold on monthly time scales in ECCO, suggesting that the integrated subtropical gyre responds to forcing through fast barotropic adjustment.

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Isabela Le Bras, Fiamma Straneo, Morven Muilwijk, Lars H. Smedsrud, Feili Li, M. Susan Lozier, and N. Penny Holliday

Abstract

Fresh Arctic waters flowing into the Atlantic are thought to have two primary fates. They may be mixed into the deep ocean as part of the overturning circulation, or flow alongside regions of deep water formation without impacting overturning. Climate models suggest that as increasing amounts of fresh water enter the Atlantic, the overturning circulation will be disrupted, yet we lack an understanding of how much fresh water is mixed into the overturning circulation’s deep limb in the present day. To constrain these fresh water pathways, we build steady-state volume, salt, and heat budgets east of Greenland that are initialized with observations and closed using inverse methods. Fresh water sources are split into oceanic Polar Waters from the Arctic and surface fresh water fluxes, which include net precipitation, runoff, and ice melt, to examine how they imprint the circulation differently. We find that 65 mSv of the total 110 mSv of surface fresh water fluxes that enter our domain participate in the overturning circulation, as do 0.6 Sv of the total 1.2 Sv of Polar Waters that flow through Fram Strait. Based on these results, we hypothesize that the overturning circulation is more sensitive to future changes in Arctic fresh water outflow and precipitation, while Greenland runoff and iceberg melt are more likely to stay along the coast of Greenland.

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Astrid Pacini, Robert S. Pickart, Frank Bahr, Daniel J. Torres, Andrée L. Ramsey, James Holte, Johannes Karstensen, Marilena Oltmanns, Fiammetta Straneo, Isabela Astiz Le Bras, G. W. K. Moore, and M. Femke de Jong

Abstract

The structure, transport, and seasonal variability of the West Greenland boundary current system near Cape Farewell are investigated using a high-resolution mooring array deployed from 2014 to 2018. The boundary current system is comprised of three components: the West Greenland Coastal Current, which advects cold and fresh Upper Polar Water (UPW); the West Greenland Current, which transports warm and salty Irminger Water (IW) along the upper slope and UPW at the surface; and the Deep Western Boundary Current, which advects dense overflow waters. Labrador Sea Water (LSW) is prevalent at the seaward side of the array within an offshore recirculation gyre and at the base of the West Greenland Current. The 4-yr mean transport of the full boundary current system is 31.1 ± 7.4 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), with no clear seasonal signal. However, the individual water mass components exhibit seasonal cycles in hydrographic properties and transport. LSW penetrates the boundary current locally, through entrainment/mixing from the adjacent recirculation gyre, and also enters the current upstream in the Irminger Sea. IW is modified through air–sea interaction during winter along the length of its trajectory around the Irminger Sea, which converts some of the water to LSW. This, together with the seasonal increase in LSW entering the current, results in an anticorrelation in transport between these two water masses. The seasonality in UPW transport can be explained by remote wind forcing and subsequent adjustment via coastal trapped waves. Our results provide the first quantitatively robust observational description of the boundary current in the eastern Labrador Sea.

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