A Shelf Water Cascading Event near Cape Hatteras

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  • 1 Department of Marine Sciences, University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill
  • 2 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • 3 East Carolina University Coastal Studies Institute
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Abstract

Carbon-rich Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) and South Atlantic Bight (SAB) shelf waters typically converge on the continental shelf near Cape Hatteras. Both are often exported to the adjacent open ocean in this region. During a survey of the region in mid-January 2018, there was no sign of shelf water export at the surface. Instead, a subsurface layer of shelf water with high chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen was observed at the edge of the Gulf Stream east of Cape Hatteras. Strong cooling over the MAB and SAB shelves in early January led to shelf waters being denser than offshore surface waters. Driven by the density gradient, the denser shelf waters cascaded beneath the Gulf Stream and were subsequently entrained into the Gulf Stream, as they were advected northeastward. Underwater glider observations 80 km downstream of the export location captured 0.44 Sv of shelf waters transported along the edge of the Gulf Stream in January 2018. In total, as much as 7×106 kg of carbon was exported from the continental shelf to a greater depth in the open ocean during this 5-day-long cascading event. Earlier observations of near-bottom temperature and salinity at a depth of 230 m captured several multiday episodes of shelf water at a location that was otherwise dominated by Gulf Stream water, indicating that the January 2018 cascading event was not unique. Cascading is an important, yet little-studied pathway of carbon export and sequestration at Cape Hatteras.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author: Lu Han, luhan@unc.edu

Abstract

Carbon-rich Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) and South Atlantic Bight (SAB) shelf waters typically converge on the continental shelf near Cape Hatteras. Both are often exported to the adjacent open ocean in this region. During a survey of the region in mid-January 2018, there was no sign of shelf water export at the surface. Instead, a subsurface layer of shelf water with high chlorophyll and dissolved oxygen was observed at the edge of the Gulf Stream east of Cape Hatteras. Strong cooling over the MAB and SAB shelves in early January led to shelf waters being denser than offshore surface waters. Driven by the density gradient, the denser shelf waters cascaded beneath the Gulf Stream and were subsequently entrained into the Gulf Stream, as they were advected northeastward. Underwater glider observations 80 km downstream of the export location captured 0.44 Sv of shelf waters transported along the edge of the Gulf Stream in January 2018. In total, as much as 7×106 kg of carbon was exported from the continental shelf to a greater depth in the open ocean during this 5-day-long cascading event. Earlier observations of near-bottom temperature and salinity at a depth of 230 m captured several multiday episodes of shelf water at a location that was otherwise dominated by Gulf Stream water, indicating that the January 2018 cascading event was not unique. Cascading is an important, yet little-studied pathway of carbon export and sequestration at Cape Hatteras.

Denotes content that is immediately available upon publication as open access.

Corresponding author: Lu Han, luhan@unc.edu
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