Mass, heat and nutrient fluxes in the Atlantic Ocean determined by inverse methods

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Rintoul, Stephen R.
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Atlantic Ocean
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Ocean circulation
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Atlantis II (Ship : 1963-) Cruise AII109
Inverse methods are applied to historical hydrographic data to address two aspects of the general circulation of the Atlantic Ocean. The method allows conservation statements for mass and other properties, along with a variety of other constraints, to be combined in a dynamically consistent way to estimate the absolute velocity field and associated property transports. The method is first used to examine the exchange of mass and heat between the South Atlantic and the neighboring ocean basins. The Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) carries a surplus of intermediate water into the South Atlantic through Drake Passage which is compensated by a surplus of deep and bottom water leaving the basin south of Africa. As a result, the ACC loses .25±.18x1015 W of heat in crossing the Atlantic. At 32°S the meridional flux of heat is .25±.19x1015 W equatorward, consistent in sign but smaller in magnitude than other recent estimates. This heat flux is carried primarily by a meridional overturning cell in which the export of 17 Sv of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) is balanced by an equatorward return flow equally split between the surface layers, and the intermediate and bottom water. No "leak" of warm Indian Ocean thermocline water is necessary to account for the equatorward heat flux across 32°S; in fact, a large transfer of warm water from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic is found to be inconsistent with the present data set. Together these results demonstrate that the Atlantic as a whole acts to convert intermediate water to deep and bottom water, and thus that the global thermohaline cell associated with the formation and export of NADW is closed primarily by a "cold water path," in which deep water leaving the Atlantic ultimately returns as intermediate water entering the basin through Drake Passage. The second problem addressed concerns the circulation and property fluxes across 24°and 36°N in the subtropical North Atlantic. Conservation statements are considered for the nutrients as well as mass, and the nutrients are found to contribute significant information independent of temperature and salinity. Silicate is particularly effective in reducing the indeterminacy of circulation estimates based on mass conservation alone. In turn, the results demonstrate that accurate estimates of the chemical fluxes depend on relatively detailed knowledge of the circulation. The zonal-integral of the circulation consists of an overturning cell at both latitudes, with a net export of 19 Sv of NADW. This cell results in a poleward heat flux of 1.3±.2x1015 Wand an equatorward oxygen flux of 2900±180 kmol S-l across each latitude. The net flux of silicate is also equatorward: 138±38 kmol s-1 and 152±56 kmol s -1 across 36°and 24° N, respectively. However, in contrast to heat and oxygen, the overturning cell is not the only important mechanism responsible for the net silicate transport. A horizontal recirculation consisting of northward flow of silica-rich deep water in the eastern basin balanced by southward flow of low silica water in the western basin results in a significant silicate flux to the north. The net equatorward flux is thus smaller than indicated by the overturning cell alone. The net flux of nitrate across 36°N is n9±35 kmol 8- 1 to the north and is indistinguishable from zero at 24°N (-8±39 kmol 8-1 ), leading to a net divergence of nitrate between these two latitudes. Forcing the system to conserve nitrate leads to an unreasonable circulation. The dominant contribution to the nitrate flux at 36°N results from the correlation of strong northward flow and relatively high nitrate concentrations in the sub-surface waters of the Gulf Stream. The observed nitrate divergence between 24°and 36°N, and convergence north of 36°N, can be accounted for by a shallow cell in which the northward flow of inorganic nitrogen (nitrate) in the Gulf Stream is balanced by a southward flux of dissolved organic nitrogen in the recirculation gyre. Oxidation of the dissolved organic matter during its transit of the subtropical gyre supplies the required source of regenerated nitrate to the Gulf Stream and consumes oxygen, consistent with recent observations of oxygen utilization in the Sargasso Sea.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution March 1988
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Rintoul, S. R. (1988). Mass, heat and nutrient fluxes in the Atlantic Ocean determined by inverse methods [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server.
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