skip to main content

Title: Submesoscale modulation of deep water formation in the Labrador Sea
Abstract

Submesoscale structures fill the ocean surface, and recent numerical simulations and indirect observations suggest that they may extend to the ocean interior. It remains unclear, however, how far-reaching their impact may be—in both space and time, from weather to climate scales. Here transport pathways and the ultimate fate of the Irminger Current water from the continental slope to Labrador Sea interior are investigated through regional ocean simulations. Submesoscale processes modulate this transport and in turn the stratification of the Labrador Sea interior, by controlling the characteristics of the coherent vortices formed along West Greenland. Submesoscale circulations modify and control the Labrador Sea contribution to the global meridional overturning, with a linear relationship between time-averaged near surface vorticity and/or frontogenetic tendency along the west coast of Greenland, and volume of convected water. This research puts into contest the lesser role of the Labrador Sea in the overall control of the state of the MOC argued through the analysis of recent OSNAP (Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program) data with respect to estimates from climate models. It also confirms that submesoscale turbulence scales-up to climate relevance, pointing to the urgency of including its advective contribution in Earth systems models.

Authors:
; ; ;
Award ID(s):
1658174
Publication Date:
NSF-PAR ID:
10218721
Journal Name:
Scientific Reports
Volume:
10
Issue:
1
ISSN:
2045-2322
Publisher:
Nature Publishing Group
Sponsoring Org:
National Science Foundation
More Like this
  1. Abstract Ocean heat transport (OHT) plays a key role in climate and its variability. Here, we identify modes of low-frequency North Atlantic OHT variability by applying a low-frequency component analysis (LFCA) to output from three global climate models. The first low-frequency component (LFC), computed using this method, is an index of OHT variability that maximizes the ratio of low-frequency variance (occurring at decadal and longer timescales) to total variance. Lead-lag regressions of atmospheric and ocean variables onto the LFC timeseries illuminate the dominant mechanisms controlling low-frequency OHT variability. Anomalous northwesterly winds from eastern North America over the North Atlantic act to increase upper ocean density in the Labrador Sea region, enhancing deep convection, which later increases OHT via changes in the strength of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The strengthened AMOC carries warm, salty water into the subpolar gyre, reducing deep convection and weakening AMOC and OHT. This mechanism, where changes in AMOC and OHT are driven primarily by changes in Labrador Sea deep convection, holds not only in models where the climatological (i.e., time-mean) deep convection is concentrated in the Labrador Sea, but also in models where the climatological deep convection is concentrated in the Greenland-Iceland-Norwegian (GIN) Seasmore »or the Irminger and Iceland Basins. These results suggest that despite recent observational evidence suggesting that the Labrador Sea plays a minor role in driving the climatological AMOC, the Labrador Sea may still play an important role in driving low-frequency variability in AMOC and OHT.« less
  2. Abstract

    The subpolar gyres of the Southern Ocean form an important dynamical link between the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and the coastline of Antarctica. Despite their key involvement in the production and export of bottom water and the poleward transport of oceanic heat, these gyres are rarely acknowledged in conceptual models of the Southern Ocean circulation, which tend to focus on the zonally averaged overturning across the ACC. To isolate the effect of these gyres on the regional circulation, we carried out a set of numerical simulations with idealized representations of the Weddell Sea sector in the Southern Ocean. A key result is that the zonally oriented submarine ridge along the northern periphery of the subpolar gyre plays a fundamental role in setting the stratification and circulation across the entire region. In addition to sharpening and strengthening the horizontal circulation of the gyre, the zonal ridge establishes a strong meridional density front that separates the weakly stratified subpolar gyre from the more stratified circumpolar flow. Critically, the formation of this front shifts the latitudinal outcrop position of certain deep isopycnals such that they experience different buoyancy forcing at the surface. Additionally, the zonal ridge modifies the mechanisms by which heatmore »is transported poleward by the ocean, favoring heat transport by transient eddies while suppressing that by stationary eddies. This study highlights the need to characterize how bathymetry at the subpolar gyre–ACC boundary may constrain the transient response of the regional circulation to changes in surface forcing.

    Significance Statement

    This study explores the impact of seafloor bathymetry on the dynamics of subpolar gyres in the Southern Ocean. The subpolar gyres are major circulation features that connect the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) and the coastline of Antarctica. This work provides deeper insight for how the submarine ridges that exist along the northern periphery of these gyres shape the vertical distribution of tracers and overturning circulation in these regions. These findings highlight an underappreciated yet fundamentally important topographical constraint on the three-dimensional cycling of heat and carbon in the Southern Ocean—processes that have far-reaching implications for the global climate. Future work should explore how the presence of these ridges affect the time-evolving response of the Southern Ocean to changes in surface conditions.

    « less
  3. The Amundsen Sea sector of Antarctica has long been considered the most vulnerable part of the West Antarctic Ice Sheet (WAIS) because of the great water depth at the grounding line, a subglacial bed seafloor deepening toward the interior of the continent, and the absence of substantial ice shelves. Glaciers in this configuration are thought to be susceptible to rapid or runaway retreat. Ice flowing into the Amundsen Sea Embayment is undergoing the most rapid changes of any sector of the Antarctic ice sheets outside the Antarctic Peninsula, including substantial grounding-line retreat over recent decades, as observed from satellite data. Recent models suggest that a threshold leading to the collapse of WAIS in this sector may have been already crossed and that much of the ice sheet could be lost even under relatively moderate greenhouse gas emission scenarios. Drill cores from the Amundsen Sea provide tests of several key questions about controls on ice sheet stability. The cores offer a direct offshore record of glacial history in a sector that is exclusively influenced by ice draining the WAIS, which allows clear comparisons between the WAIS history and low-latitude climate records. Today, relatively warm (modified) Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) is impingingmore »onto the Amundsen Sea shelf and causing melting under ice shelves and at the grounding line of the WAIS in most places. Reconstructions of past CDW intrusions can assess the ties between warm water upwelling and large-scale changes in past grounding-line positions. Carrying out these reconstructions offshore from the drainage basin that currently has the most substantial negative mass balance of ice anywhere in Antarctica is thus of prime interest to future predictions. The scientific objectives for this expedition are built on hypotheses about WAIS dynamics and related paleoenvironmental and paleoclimatic conditions. The main objectives are: 1. To test the hypothesis that WAIS collapses occurred during the Neogene and Quaternary and, if so, when and under which environmental conditions; 2. To obtain ice-proximal records of ice sheet dynamics in the Amundsen Sea that correlate with global records of ice-volume changes and proxy records for atmospheric and ocean temperatures; 3. To study the stability of a marine-based WAIS margin and how warm deepwater incursions control its position on the shelf; 4. To find evidence for the earliest major grounded WAIS advances onto the middle and outer shelf; 5. To test the hypothesis that the first major WAIS growth was related to the uplift of the Marie Byrd Land dome. International Ocean Discovery Program (IODP) Expedition 379 completed two very successful drill sites on the continental rise of the Amundsen Sea. Site U1532 is located on a large sediment drift, now called the Resolution Drift, and it penetrated to 794 m with 90% recovery. We collected almost-continuous cores from recent age through the Pleistocene and Pliocene and into the upper Miocene. At Site U1533, we drilled 383 m (70% recovery) into the more condensed sequence at the lower flank of the same sediment drift. The cores of both sites contain unique records that will enable study of the cyclicity of ice sheet advance and retreat processes as well as ocean-bottom water circulation and water mass changes. In particular, Site U1532 revealed a sequence of Pliocene sediments with an excellent paleomagnetic record for high-resolution climate change studies of the previously sparsely sampled Pacific sector of the West Antarctic margin. Despite the drilling success at these sites, the overall expedition experienced three unexpected difficulties that affected many of the scientific objectives: 1. The extensive sea ice on the continental shelf prevented us from drilling any of the proposed shelf sites. 2. The drill sites on the continental rise were in the path of numerous icebergs of various sizes that frequently forced us to pause drilling or leave the hole entirely as they approached the ship. The overall downtime caused by approaching icebergs was 50% of our time spent on site. 3. A medical evacuation cut the expedition short by 1 week. Recovery of core on the continental rise at Sites U1532 and U1533 cannot be used to indicate the extent of grounded ice on the shelf or, thus, of its retreat directly. However, the sediments contained in these cores offer a range of clues about past WAIS extent and retreat. At Sites U1532 and U1533, coarse-grained sediments interpreted to be ice-rafted debris (IRD) were identified throughout all recovered time periods. A dominant feature of the cores is recorded by lithofacies cyclicity, which is interpreted to represent relatively warmer periods variably characterized by sediments with higher microfossil abundance, greater bioturbation, and higher IRD concentrations alternating with colder periods characterized by dominantly gray laminated terrigenous muds. Initial comparison of these cycles to published late Quaternary records from the region suggests that the units interpreted to be records of warmer time intervals in the core tie to global interglacial periods and the units interpreted to be deposits of colder periods tie to global glacial periods. Cores from the two drill sites recovered sediments of dominantly terrigenous origin intercalated or mixed with pelagic or hemipelagic deposits. In particular, Site U1533, which is located near a deep-sea channel originating from the continental slope, contains graded silts, sands, and gravels transported downslope from the shelf to the rise. The channel is likely the pathway of these sediments transported by turbidity currents and other gravitational downslope processes. The association of lithologic facies at both sites predominantly reflects the interplay of downslope and contouritic sediment supply with occasional input of more pelagic sediment. Despite the lack of cores from the shelf, our records from the continental rise reveal the timing of glacial advances across the shelf and thus the existence of a continent-wide ice sheet in West Antarctica during longer time periods since at least the late Miocene. Cores from both sites contain abundant coarse-grained sediments and clasts of plutonic origin transported either by downslope processes or by ice rafting. If detailed provenance studies confirm our preliminary assessment that the origin of these samples is from the plutonic bedrock of Marie Byrd Land, their thermochronological record will potentially reveal timing and rates of denudation and erosion linked to crustal uplift. The chronostratigraphy of both sites enables the generation of a seismic sequence stratigraphy for the entire Amundsen Sea continental rise, spanning the area offshore from the Amundsen Sea Embayment westward along the Marie Byrd Land margin to the easternmost Ross Sea through a connecting network of seismic lines.« less
  4. While it has generally been understood that the production of Labrador Sea Water (LSW) impacts the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (MOC), this relationship has not been explored extensively or validated against observations. To explore this relationship, a suite of global ocean–sea ice models forced by the same interannually varying atmospheric dataset, varying in resolution from non-eddy-permitting to eddy-permitting (1°–1/4°), is analyzed to investigate the local and downstream relationships between LSW formation and the MOC on interannual to decadal time scales. While all models display a strong relationship between changes in the LSW volume and the MOC in the Labrador Sea, this relationship degrades considerably downstream of the Labrador Sea. In particular, there is no consistent pattern among the models in the North Atlantic subtropical basin over interannual to decadal time scales. Furthermore, the strong response of the MOC in the Labrador Sea to LSW volume changes in that basin may be biased by the overproduction of LSW in many models compared to observations. This analysis shows that changes in LSW volume in the Labrador Sea cannot be clearly and consistently linked to a coherent MOC response across latitudes over interannual to decadal time scales in ocean hindcast simulations of themore »last half century. Similarly, no coherent relationships are identified between the MOC and the Labrador Sea mixed layer depth or the density of newly formed LSW across latitudes or across models over interannual to decadal time scales.

    « less
  5. Abstract The latitudinal structure of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) variability in the North Atlantic is investigated using numerical results from three ocean circulation simulations over the past four to five decades. We show that AMOC variability south of the Labrador Sea (53°N) to 25°N can be decomposed into a latitudinally coherent component and a gyre-opposing component. The latitudinally coherent component contains both decadal and interannual variabilities. The coherent decadal AMOC variability originates in the subpolar region and is reflected by the zonal density gradient in that basin. It is further shown to be linked to persistent North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) conditions in all three models. The interannual AMOC variability contained in the latitudinally coherent component is shown to be driven by westerlies in the transition region between the subpolar and the subtropical gyre (40°–50°N), through significant responses in Ekman transport. Finally, the gyre-opposing component principally varies on interannual time scales and responds to local wind variability related to the annual NAO. The contribution of these components to the total AMOC variability is latitude-dependent: 1) in the subpolar region, all models show that the latitudinally coherent component dominates AMOC variability on interannual to decadal time scales, with little contributionmore »from the gyre-opposing component, and 2) in the subtropical region, the gyre-opposing component explains a majority of the interannual AMOC variability in two models, while in the other model, the contributions from the coherent and the gyre-opposing components are comparable. These results provide a quantitative decomposition of AMOC variability across latitudes and shed light on the linkage between different AMOC variability components and atmospheric forcing mechanisms.« less