The water masses exiting the Labrador Sea, and in particular the dense water mass formed by convection (i.e. Labrador Sea Water, LSW), are important components of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). Several studies have questioned the connection of the LSW production to the AMOC variability. This is partly due to the limited understanding of how this locally formed water mass leaves the interior of the Labrador Sea. In this study, the pathways and the timescales of the water masses exiting the Labrador Sea via the boundary current are investigated by Lagrangian particle tracking. This method is applied to the output of a strongly-eddying idealized model that is capable of representing the essential physical processes involved in the cycle of convection and restratification in the Labrador Sea. The Lagrangian trajectories reveal that prior to exiting the domain the water masses follow either a fast route within the boundary current or a slower route that involves boundary current-interior exchanges. The densest water masses exiting the Labrador Sea stem from this slow route, where particles experience strong water mass transformation while in the interior. In contrast, the particles that follow the fast route experience water mass transformation in the boundary current at the western side of the domain only, yielding a lighter product. Although both routes carry roughly the same transport, we show that 60% of the overturning in density space is associated with the volume transport carried by particles that follow the slow route. This study further highlights that the export of dense water masses, which is governed by the eddy activity in the basin, yields export timescales that are usually longer than a year. This underlines the necessity of resolving the mesoscale features required to capture the interior–boundary current exchange in order to correctly represent the export of the LSW.
- Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
- Labrador Sea
- Labrador Sea Water export