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Julian J. Schanze and Raymond W. Schmitt

Abstract

Owing to the larger thermal expansion coefficient at higher temperatures, more buoyancy is put into the ocean by heating than is removed by cooling at low temperatures. The authors show that, even with globally balanced thermal and haline surface forcing at the ocean surface, there is a negative density flux and hence a positive buoyancy flux. As shown by McDougall and Garrett, this must be compensated by interior densification on mixing due to the nonlinearity of the equation of state (cabbeling). Three issues that arise from this are addressed: the estimation of the annual input of density forcing, the effects of the seasonal cycle, and the total cabbeling potential of the ocean upon complete mixing. The annual expansion through surface density forcing in a steady-state ocean driven by balanced evaporation–precipitation–runoff (EPR) and net radiative budget at the surface Q net is estimated as 74 000 m3 s−1 (0.07 Sv; 1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), which would be equivalent to a sea level rise of 6.3 mm yr−1. This is equivalent to approximately 3 times the estimated rate of sea level rise or 450% of the average Mississippi River discharge. When seasonal variations are included, this density forcing increases by 35% relative to the time-mean case to 101 000 m3 s−1 (0.1 Sv). Likely bounds are established on these numbers by using different Q net and EPR datasets and the estimates are found to be robust to a factor of ~2. These values compare well with the cabbeling-induced contraction inferred from independent thermal dissipation rate estimates. The potential sea level decrease upon complete vertical mixing of the ocean is estimated as 230 mm. When horizontal mixing is included, the sea level drop is estimated as 300 mm.

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J. Boutin, Y. Chao, W. E. Asher, T. Delcroix, R. Drucker, K. Drushka, N. Kolodziejczyk, T. Lee, N. Reul, G. Reverdin, J. Schanze, A. Soloviev, L. Yu, J. Anderson, L. Brucker, E. Dinnat, A. Santos-Garcia, W. L. Jones, C. Maes, T. Meissner, W. Tang, N. Vinogradova, and B. Ward

Abstract

Remote sensing of salinity using satellite-mounted microwave radiometers provides new perspectives for studying ocean dynamics and the global hydrological cycle. Calibration and validation of these measurements is challenging because satellite and in situ methods measure salinity differently. Microwave radiometers measure the salinity in the top few centimeters of the ocean, whereas most in situ observations are reported below a depth of a few meters. Additionally, satellites measure salinity as a spatial average over an area of about 100 × 100 km2. In contrast, in situ sensors provide pointwise measurements at the location of the sensor. Thus, the presence of vertical gradients in, and horizontal variability of, sea surface salinity complicates comparison of satellite and in situ measurements. This paper synthesizes present knowledge of the magnitude and the processes that contribute to the formation and evolution of vertical and horizontal variability in near-surface salinity. Rainfall, freshwater plumes, and evaporation can generate vertical gradients of salinity, and in some cases these gradients can be large enough to affect validation of satellite measurements. Similarly, mesoscale to submesoscale processes can lead to horizontal variability that can also affect comparisons of satellite data to in situ data. Comparisons between satellite and in situ salinity measurements must take into account both vertical stratification and horizontal variability.

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