Dominant circulation patterns of the deep Gulf of Mexico

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Perez-Brunius, Paula
Furey, Heather H.
Bower, Amy S.
Hamilton, Peter
Candela, Julio
García-Carrillo, Paula
Leben, Robert
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Abyssal circulation
Boundary currents
Lagrangian circulation/transport
Large-scale motions
The large-scale circulation of the bottom layer of the Gulf of Mexico is analyzed, with special attention to the historically least studied western basin. The analysis is based on 4 years of data collected by 158 subsurface floats parked at 1500 and 2500 m and is complemented with data collected by current meter moorings in the western basin during the same period. Three main circulation patterns stand out: a cyclonic boundary current, a cyclonic gyre in the abyssal plain, and the very high eddy kinetic energy observed in the eastern Gulf. The boundary current and the cyclonic gyre appear as distinct features, which interact in the western tip of the Yucatan shelf. The persistence and continuity of the boundary current is addressed. Although high variability is observed, the boundary flow serves as a pathway for water to travel around the western basin in approximately 2 years. An interesting discovery is the separation of the boundary current over the northwestern slope of the Yucatan shelf. The separation and retroflection of the along-slope current appears to be a persistent feature and is associated with anticyclonic eddies whose genesis mechanism remains to be understood. As the boundary flow separates, it feeds into the westward flow of the deep cyclonic gyre. The location of this gyre—named the Sigsbee Abyssal Gyre—coincides with closed geostrophic contours, so eddy–topography interaction via bottom form stresses may drive this mean flow. The contribution to the cyclonic vorticity of the gyre by modons traveling under Loop Current eddies is discussed.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2018. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 48 (2018): 511-529, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-17-0140.1.
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Journal of Physical Oceanography 48 (2018): 511-529
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