A river of salt
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Terrestrial rivers are a well-known part of the global water cycle, and there has been recent discussion of “atmospheric rivers” that transport vast quantities of moisture from the tropical ocean to mid-latitudes in transient weather systems. Complementary “salt rivers” within the ocean are an equally important part of the global water cycle. They help define the ocean’s methods of returning water to where it is needed to maintain sea level and the global water cycle. One part of the Salinity Processes in the Upper-ocean Regional Study (SPURS) focused on the North Atlantic surface salinity maximum, where high evaporation rates remove freshwater from the ocean surface and leave dissolved salts behind. Much of the effort is devoted to understanding how that salty water disperses through lateral and vertical mixing processes. One important exit path is simple advection within the general circulation, which in the central Atlantic means the wind-driven “Sverdrup” circulation. Evaporation results in high salinity within the flow, marking a subsurface salt river within the ocean. Here, we examine the river’s structure as revealed in the average salinity field of the North Atlantic. Mid-ocean salinity maxima provide a unique opportunity to use an isohaline control volume approach for analyzing the mixing processes that disperse the high-salinity plume.
Author Posting. © The Oceanography Society, 2015. This article is posted here by permission of The Oceanography Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Oceanography 28, no. 1 (2015): 40-45, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2015.04.