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Neill Mackay, Chris Wilson, Jan Zika, and N. Penny Holliday

Abstract

A regional thermohaline inverse method (RTHIM) is presented that estimates velocities through the section bounding an enclosed domain and transformation rates resulting from interior mixing within the domain, given inputs of surface boundary fluxes of heat and salt and interior distributions of salinity and temperature. The method works by invoking a volumetric balance in thermohaline coordinates between the transformation resulting from mixing, surface fluxes, and advection, and constraining the mixing to be down tracer gradients. The method is validated using a 20-yr mean of outputs from the NEMO model in an Arctic and subpolar North Atlantic domain, bound to the south by a section with a mean latitude of 66°N. RTHIM solutions agree well with the NEMO model “truth” and are robust to a range of parameters; the meridional overturning circulation (MOC), heat, and freshwater transports calculated from an ensemble of RTHIM solutions are within 12%, 10%, and 19%, respectively, of the NEMO values. There is also bulk agreement between RTHIM solution transformation rates resulting from mixing and those diagnosed from NEMO. Localized differences in diagnosed mixing may be used to guide the development of mixing parameterizations in models such as NEMO, whose downgradient diffusive closures with prescribed diffusivity may be considered oversimplified and too restrictive.

Open access
Neill Mackay, Chris Wilson, N. Penny Holliday, and Jan D. Zika

Abstract

The strength of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the North Atlantic is dependent upon the formation of dense waters that occurs at high northern latitudes. Wintertime deep convection in the Labrador and Irminger Seas forms the intermediate water mass known as Labrador Sea Water (LSW). Changes in the rate of formation and subsequent export of LSW are thought to play a role in MOC variability, but formation rates are uncertain and the link between formation and export is complex. We present the first observation-based application of a recently developed regional thermohaline inverse method (RTHIM) to a region encompassing the Arctic and part of the North Atlantic subpolar gyre for the years 2013, 2014, and 2015. RTHIM is a novel method that can diagnose the formation and export rates of water masses such as the LSW identified by their temperature and salinity, apportioning the formation rates into contributions from surface fluxes and interior mixing. We find LSW formation rates of up to 12 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) during 2014–15, a period of strong wintertime convection, and around half that value during 2013 when convection was weak. We also show that the newly convected water is not exported directly, but instead is mixed isopycnally with warm, salty waters that have been advected into the region, before the products are then exported. RTHIM solutions for 2015 volume, heat, and freshwater transports are compared with observations from a mooring array deployed for the Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program (OSNAP) and show good agreement, lending validity to our results.

Open access
Cristian Florindo-López, Sheldon Bacon, Yevgeny Aksenov, Léon Chafik, Eugene Colbourne, and N. Penny Holliday

Abstract

While reasonable knowledge of multidecadal Arctic freshwater storage variability exists, we have little knowledge of Arctic freshwater exports on similar time scales. A hydrographic time series from the Labrador Shelf, spanning seven decades at annual resolution, is here used to quantify Arctic Ocean freshwater export variability west of Greenland. Output from a high-resolution coupled ice–ocean model is used to establish the representativeness of those hydrographic sections. Clear annual to decadal variability emerges, with high freshwater transports during the 1950s and 1970s–80s, and low transports in the 1960s and from the mid-1990s to 2016, with typical amplitudes of 30 mSv (1 Sv = 106 m3 s−1). The variability in both the transports and cumulative volumes correlates well both with Arctic and North Atlantic freshwater storage changes on the same time scale. We refer to the “inshore branch” of the Labrador Current as the Labrador Coastal Current, because it is a dynamically and geographically distinct feature. It originates as the Hudson Bay outflow, and preserves variability from river runoff into the Hudson Bay catchment. We find a need for parallel, long-term freshwater transport measurements from Fram and Davis Straits to better understand Arctic freshwater export control mechanisms and partitioning of variability between routes west and east of Greenland, and a need for better knowledge and understanding of year-round (solid and liquid) freshwater fluxes on the Labrador shelf. Our results have implications for wider, coherent atmospheric control on freshwater fluxes and content across the Arctic Ocean and northern North Atlantic Ocean.

Open access
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.

Open access