Caribbean Current variability and the influence of the Amazon and Orinoco freshwater plumes
Cherubin, L. M.
Richardson, Philip L.
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The variability of the Caribbean Current is studied in terms of the influence on its dynamics of the freshwater inflow from the Orinoco and Amazon rivers. Sea-surface salinity maps of the eastern Caribbean and SeaWiFS color images show that a freshwater plume from the Orinoco and Amazon Rivers extends seasonally northwestward across the Caribbean basin, from August to November, 3 to 4 months after the peak of the seasonal rains in northeastern South America. The plume is sustained by two main inflows from the North Brazil Current and its current rings. The southern inflow enters the Caribbean Sea south of Grenada Island and becomes the main branch of the Caribbean Current in the southern Caribbean. The northern inflow (14°N) passes northward around the Grenadine Islands and St. Vincent. As North Brazil Current rings stall and decay east of the Lesser Antilles, between 14°N and 18°N, they release freshwater into the northern part of the eastern Caribbean Sea merging with inflow from the North Equatorial Current. Velocity vectors derived from surface drifters in the eastern Caribbean indicate three westward flowing jets: (1) the southern and fastest at 11°N; (2) the center and second fastest at 14°N; (3) the northern and slowest at 17°N. The center jet (14°N) flows faster between the months of August and December and is located near the southern part of the freshwater plume. Using the MICOM North Atlantic simulation, it is shown that the Caribbean Current is seasonally intensified near 14°N, partly by the inflow of river plumes. Three to four times more anticyclonic eddies are formed during August-December, which agrees with a pronounced rise in the number of anticyclonic looper days in the drifter data then. A climatology-forced regional simulation embedding only the northern (14°N) Caribbean Current (without the influence of the vorticity of the NBC rings), using the ROMS model, shows that the low salinity plume coincides with a negative potential vorticity anomaly that intensifies the center jet located at the salinity front. The jet forms cyclones south of the plume, which are moved northwestward as the anticyclonic circulation intensifies in the eastern Caribbean Sea, north of 14°N. Friction on the shelves of the Greater Antilles also generates cyclones, which propagate westward and eastward from 67°W.
Author Posting. © Elsevier, 2007. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers 54 (2007): 1451-1473, doi:10.1016/j.dsr.2007.04.021.