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Rick Lumpkin and Zulema Garraffo

Abstract

Because the tropical Atlantic is characterized by regions of strong seasonal variability that have been sampled inhomogeneously by surface drifters, Eulerian averages of these Lagrangian observations in spatially fixed bins may be aliased. In the Pacific, this problem has been circumvented by first calculating seasonal or monthly means. In the Atlantic, such an approach is of limited value because of the relatively sparse database of drifter observations. As an alternative, a methodology is developed in which drifter-observed currents and sea surface temperatures are grouped into bins and, within each bin, simultaneously decomposed into a time-mean, annual and semiannual harmonics, and an eddy residual with a nonzero integral time scale.

The methodology is evaluated using a temporally homogeneous SST product and in situ SST observations, and also using simulated drifter observations in an eddy-resolving model of the Atlantic Ocean. These analyses show that, compared to simple bin averaging, the decomposition developed herein yields significantly improved estimates of time-mean values in regions of strong seasonal variability. The methodology can also successfully estimate the distribution of the seasonal harmonics’ amplitude and phase throughout much of the tropical Atlantic.

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Rick Lumpkin and Kevin Speer

Abstract

Observations of large-scale hydrography, air–sea forcing, and regional circulation from numerous studies are combined by inverse methods to determine the basin-scale circulation, average diapycnal mixing, and adjustments to air–sea forcing of the North Atlantic Ocean. Dense overflows through the Denmark Strait and Faroe Bank channels are explicitly included and are associated with strong vertical and lateral circulation and mixing. These processes in the far northern Atlantic play a fundamental role in the meridional overturning circulation for the entire ocean, accompanied by an upper cell of mode-water and intermediate-water circulation. The two cells converge roughly at the mean depth of the midocean ridge crest. The Labrador Sea Water layer lies within this convergence. South of the overflow region, model-derived mean diapycnal diffusivities are O(10−5 m2 s−1) or smaller at the base of the thermocline, and diapycnal advection is driven primarily by air–sea transformation on outcropping layers.

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Rick Lumpkin and Kevin Speer

Abstract

A decade-mean global ocean circulation is estimated using inverse techniques, incorporating air–sea fluxes of heat and freshwater, recent hydrographic sections, and direct current measurements. This information is used to determine mass, heat, freshwater, and other chemical transports, and to constrain boundary currents and dense overflows. The 18 boxes defined by these sections are divided into 45 isopycnal (neutral density) layers. Diapycnal transfers within the boxes are allowed, representing advective fluxes and mixing processes. Air–sea fluxes at the surface produce transfers between outcropping layers. The model obtains a global overturning circulation consistent with the various observations, revealing two global-scale meridional circulation cells: an upper cell, with sinking in the Arctic and subarctic regions and upwelling in the Southern Ocean, and a lower cell, with sinking around the Antarctic continent and abyssal upwelling mainly below the crests of the major bathymetric ridges.

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Gregory R. Foltz, Claudia Schmid, and Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The seasonal cycle of the mixed layer heat budget in the northeastern tropical Atlantic (0°–25°N, 18°–28°W) is quantified using in situ and satellite measurements together with atmospheric reanalysis products. This region is characterized by pronounced latitudinal movements of the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ) and strong meridional variations of the terms in the heat budget. Three distinct regimes within the northeastern tropical Atlantic are identified. The trade wind region (15°–25°N) experiences a strong annual cycle of mixed layer heat content that is driven by approximately out-of-phase annual cycles of surface shortwave radiation (SWR), which peaks in boreal summer, and evaporative cooling, which reaches a minimum in boreal summer. The surface heat-flux-induced changes in the mixed layer heat content are damped by a strong annual cycle of cooling from vertical turbulent mixing, estimated from the residual in the heat balance. In the ITCZ core region (3°–8°N) a weak seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content is driven by a semiannual cycle of SWR and damped by evaporative cooling and vertical turbulent mixing. On the equator the seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content is balanced by an annual cycle of SWR that reaches a maximum in October and a semiannual cycle of turbulent mixing that cools the mixed layer most strongly during May–July and November. These results emphasize the importance of the surface heat flux and vertical turbulent mixing for the seasonal cycle of mixed layer heat content in the northeastern tropical Atlantic.

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Verena Hormann, Rick Lumpkin, and Renellys C. Perez

Abstract

A generalized method is developed to determine the position of the Atlantic northern cold tongue front across its zonal extent from satellite sea surface temperature (SST) data. Previous approaches estimated the frontal position subjectively or individually, calling for a more objective technique that is suitable for large datasets. The developed methodology is based on a median frontal SST, and associated positional uncertainties are on the order of 0.3° latitude for the period 1998–2011. Frontal characteristics are generally consistent with tropical instability waves (TIWs) and interannual variations are large. Application to drifter observations shows how the new methodology can be used to better understand circulation features near the northern cold tongue front. A drifter pair deployed on the eastern side of a passing TIW crest north of the front revealed that the trajectories of the drifters were clearly influenced by the shape of the front and they did not cross the front, but rather stayed close together about 2.5° north of the front. In a more complete analysis using all available drifters near the Atlantic northern cold tongue front, only about 12% of the trajectories crossed the front. Analyses in an along- and cross-frontal frame of reference complement isopycnal coordinate mapping, and tropical Atlantic drifter velocities averaged in frontal coordinates indicate a broadened shear zone between the northern branch of the South Equatorial Current and North Equatorial Countercurrent as well as meridional convergence near the front.

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Rick Lumpkin, Anne-Marie Treguier, and Kevin Speer

Abstract

Eddy time and length scales are calculated from surface drifter and subsurface float observations in the northern Atlantic Ocean. Outside the energetic Gulf Stream, subsurface timescales are relatively constant at depths from 700 m to 2000 m. Length scale and the characteristic eddy speed decrease with increasing depth below 700 m, but length scale stays relatively constant in the upper several hundred meters of the Gulf Stream. It is suggested that this behavior is due to the Lagrangian sampling of the mesoscale field, in limits set by the Eulerian eddy scales and the eddy kinetic energy. In high-energy regions of the surface and near-surface North Atlantic, the eddy field is in the “frozen field” Lagrangian sampling regime for which the Lagrangian and Eulerian length scales are proportional. However, throughout much of the deep ocean interior, the eddy field may be in the “fixed float” regime for which the Lagrangian and Eulerian timescales are nearly equal. This does not necessarily imply that the deep interior is nearly linear, as fixed-float sampling is possible in a flow field of O(1) nonlinearity.

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Gregory R. Foltz, Claudia Schmid, and Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The Prediction and Research Moored Array in the Tropical Atlantic (PIRATA) provides measurements of the upper ocean and near-surface atmosphere at 18 locations. Time series from many moorings are nearly 20 years in length. However, instrumental biases, data dropouts, and the coarse vertical resolutions of the oceanic measurements complicate their use for research. Here an enhanced PIRATA dataset (ePIRATA) is presented for the 17 PIRATA moorings with record lengths of at least seven years. Data in ePIRATA are corrected for instrumental biases, temporal gaps are filled using supplementary datasets, and the subsurface temperature and salinity time series are mapped to a uniform 5-m vertical grid. All original PIRATA data that pass quality control and that do not require bias correction are retained without modification, and detailed error estimates are provided. The terms in the mixed-layer heat and temperature budgets are calculated and included, with error bars. As an example of ePIRATA’s application, the vertical exchange of heat at the base of the mixed layer (Q h) is calculated at each PIRATA location as the difference between the heat storage rate and the sum of the net surface heat flux and horizontal advection. Off-equatorial locations are found to have annual mean cooling rates of 20–60 W m−2, while cooling at equatorial locations reaches 85–110 W m−2 between 10° and 35°W and decreases to 40 W m−2 at 0°. At most off-equatorial locations, the strongest seasonal cooling from Q h occurs when winds are weak. Possible explanations are discussed, including the importance of seasonal modulations of mixed-layer depth and the diurnal cycle.

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Rick Lumpkin, Nikolai Maximenko, and Mayra Pazos

Abstract

NOAA ’s Global Drifter Program (GDP) manages a global array of ~1250 active satellite-tracked surface drifting buoys (“drifters”) in collaboration with numerous national and international partners. To better manage the drifter array and to assess the performance of various drifter manufacturers, it is important to discriminate between drifters that cease transmitting because of internal failure and those that cease because of external factors such as running aground or being picked up. An accurate assessment of where drifters run aground would also allow the observations to be used to more accurately simulate the evolution of floating marine debris and to quantify globally which shores are most prone to the deposit of marine debris. While the drifter Data Assembly Center of the GDP provides a metadata file that includes cause of death, the identified cause for most drifters is simply “quit transmitting.” In this study it is shown that a significant fraction of these drifters likely ran aground or were picked up, and a statistical estimate that each drifter ran aground or was picked up is derived.

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Gregory R. Foltz, Claudia Schmid, and Rick Lumpkin

Abstract

The transport of low-salinity water northward in the tropical and subtropical North Atlantic Ocean influences upper-ocean stratification, vertical mixing, and sea surface temperature (SST). In this study, satellite and in situ observations are used to trace low-salinity water northward from its source in the equatorial Atlantic and to examine its modification through air–sea fluxes and vertical mixing. In contrast to gridded climatologies, which depict a gradual northward dispersal of surface freshwater from the equatorial Atlantic, satellite observations and direct measurements from four moorings in the central tropical North Atlantic show a distinct band of surface freshwater moving northward from the equatorial Atlantic during boreal fall through spring, with drops in sea surface salinity (SSS) of 0.5–2.5 psu in the span of one to two weeks as the low SSS front passes. The ultimate low-latitude source of the low SSS water is found to be primarily Amazon River discharge west of 40°W and rainfall to the east. As the low-salinity water moves northward between 8° and 20°N during October–April, 70% of its freshwater in the upper 20 m is lost to the combination of evaporation, horizontal eddy diffusion, and vertical turbulent mixing, with an implied rate of SSS damping that is half of that for SST. During 1998–2012, interannual variations in SSS along 38°W are found to be negatively correlated with the strength of northward surface currents. The importance of ocean circulation for interannual variations of SSS and the small damping time scale for SSS emphasize the need to consider meridional freshwater advection when interpreting SSS variability in the tropical–subtropical North Atlantic.

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Rick Lumpkin, Luca Centurioni, and Renellys C. Perez

Abstract

The Global Ocean Observing System (GOOS) requirements for in situ surface temperature and velocity measurements call for observations at 5° × 5° resolution. A key component of the GOOS that measures these essential climate variables is the global array of surface drifters. In this study, statistical observing system sampling experiments are performed to evaluate how many drifters are required to achieve the GOOS requirements, both with and without the presence of a completed global tropical moored buoy array at 5°S–5°N. The statistics for these simulations are derived from the evolution of the actual global drifter array. It is concluded that drifters should be deployed within the near-equatorial band even though that band is also in principle covered by the tropical moored array, as the benefits of not doing so are marginal. It is also concluded that an optimal design half-life for the drifters is ~450 days, neglecting external sources of death, such as running aground or being picked up. Finally, it is concluded that comparing the drifter array size to the number of static 5° × 5° open-ocean bins is not an ideal performance indicator for system evaluation; a better performance indicator is the fraction of 5° × 5° open-ocean bins sampled, neglecting bins with high drifter death rates.

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