The spatial distribution and annual cycle of upper ocean thermohaline structure

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Cole, Sylvia T.
Rudnick, Daniel L.
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Thermohaline structure
Observations of the spatial distribution and persistence of thermohaline structure are presented, and show how advection and diffusion affect a passive tracer. More than two years of underwater glider observations in the central subtropical North Pacific showed thermohaline variability over horizontal scales from 5 to 1300 km. Thermohaline fluctuations along isopycnals (spice fluctuations) were elevated in layers throughout the water column with the largest fluctuations near the surface and subtropical frontal regions. Fluctuations were uncorrelated between the layers but stirred by the same velocity field. Spice variance had local extrema in the vertical because of differences in source water properties and the influence of neighboring water masses. Spice variance spanned about three orders of magnitude along deeper isopycnals with larger variance where different water masses met and where velocity and vorticity variance were elevated. Horizontal wave number spectra of spice had slopes of −2 everywhere in the upper 1000 m. Submesoscale spice fluctuations had slopes in physical space near the ratio of the Coriolis parameter to the buoyancy frequency (f/N), consistent with predictions of quasi-geostrophic theory. In the mixed layer, thermohaline structure had a significant annual cycle with smaller interannual differences. Thermohaline fluctuations left behind during restratification and isolated from the mixed layer decayed with time because of diffusion along isopycnals. Horizontal diffusivity estimates in the remnant mixed layer were 0.4 m2 s−1 at 15–28 km wavelengths and 0.9 m2 s−1 at 35–45 km wavelengths.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2012. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research 117 (2012): C02027, doi:10.1029/2011JC007033.
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Journal of Geophysical Research 117 (2012): C02027
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