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Volume, Heat, and Freshwater Divergences in the Subpolar North Atlantic Suggest the Nordic Seas as Key to the State of the Meridional Overturning Circulation
Stockholm University, Faculty of Science, Department of Meteorology .
Number of Authors: 22019 (English)In: Geophysical Research Letters, ISSN 0094-8276, E-ISSN 1944-8007, Vol. 46, no 9, p. 4799-4808Article in journal (Refereed) Published
Abstract [en]

The meridional overturning circulation (MOC) decreases rapidly in subpolar and Nordic regions where the warm upper layer loses its buoyancy due to intense heat loss, sinks, and flows south. The major volume loss of the upper limb of the MOC, similar to 9.6 Sv out of 18.4 +/- 3.4 Sv, occurs as subduction across the Iceland Basin and Irminger Sea while the major heat loss, 273 TW out of 395 +/- 74 TW is associated with the MOC branch that continues into the Nordic Seas where North Atlantic deep overflow water is produced. The 122 +/- 79 TW heat flux convergence in the subpolar gyre appears to be significantly larger than various estimates of heat loss to the atmosphere. Much of the 0.09 +/- 0.02 Sv freshwater divergence is presumably balanced by runoff from the Greenland shelf. These estimates suggest that the Nordic Seas, not the Labrador Sea, are key to the state of the MOC. Plain language summary The meridional overturning circulation is a two-dimensional view of the flow north of upper-ocean warm water and its return south as cold deep and intermediate water. But the actual pathways of warm-to-cold conversion are several and remarkably diverse: One branch continues into the Nordic Seas where very dense water is produced and eventually spills back into the deep North Atlantic, another branch weaves its way around the entire subpolar basin and the southern tip of Greenland to the Labrador Sea where intermediate water is formed, and the third branch is an overturning that takes place within the subpolar waters between Greenland and Scotland. Volumetrically, this is the largest branch, but in terms of heat loss the Nordic Seas, branch surrenders far more heat to the atmosphere than the other two combined. It thus plays the key role in maintaining a strong meridional overturning circulation.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2019. Vol. 46, no 9, p. 4799-4808
National Category
Earth and Related Environmental Sciences
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-170041DOI: 10.1029/2019GL082110ISI: 000468869500028OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-170041DiVA, id: diva2:1328971
Available from: 2019-06-24 Created: 2019-06-24 Last updated: 2019-06-24Bibliographically approved

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