Seasonal and regional variations of sinking in the subpolar North Atlantic from a high-resolution ocean model

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Previous studies have indicated that most of the net sinking associated with the downward branch of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) must occur near the subpolar North Atlantic boundaries. In this work we have used monthly mean fields of a high-resolution ocean model (0.1 at the Equator) to quantify this sinking. To this end we have calculated the Eulerian net vertical transport (WΣ) from the modeled vertical velocities, its seasonal variability, and its spatial distribution under repeated climatological atmospheric forcing conditions. Based on this simulation, we find that for the whole subpolar North Atlantic WΣ peaks at about -14 Sv at a depth of 1139 m, matching both the mean depth and the magnitude of the meridional transport of the AMOC at 45° N. It displays a seasonal variability of around 10 Sv. Three sinking regimes are identified according to the characteristics of the accumulated WΣ with respect to the distance to the shelf: one within the first 90 km and onto the bathymetric slope at around the peak of the boundary current speed (regime I), the second between 90 and 250 km covering the remainder of the shelf where mesoscale eddies exchange properties (momentum, heat, mass) between the interior and the boundary (regime II), and the third at larger distances from the shelf where is mostly driven by the ocean's interior eddies (regime III). Regimes I and II accumulate 90% of the of the total sinking and display smaller seasonal changes and spatial variability than regime III. We find that such a distinction in regimes is also useful to describe the characteristics of WΣ in marginal seas located far from the overflow areas, although the regime boundaries can shift a few tens of kilometers inshore or offshore depending on the bathymetric slope and shelf width of each marginal sea. The largest contributions to the sinking come from the Labrador Sea, the Newfoundland region, and the overflow regions. The magnitude, seasonal variability, and depth at which peaks vary for each region, thus revealing a complex picture of sinking in the subpolar North Atlantic.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1033-1053
Number of pages21
JournalOcean Science
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 2019


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