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  1. Free, publicly-accessible full text available July 21, 2024
  2. This study investigates the variability of water mass transformation (WMT) within the Weddell Gyre (WG). The WG serves as a pivotal site for the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) and ocean ventilation because it is the primary origin of the largest volume of water mass in the global ocean, Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW). Recent mooring data suggest substantial seasonal and interannual variability of AABW properties exiting the WG, and studies have linked the variability to the large-scale climate forcings affecting wind stress in the WG region. However, the specific thermodynamic mechanisms that link variability in surface forcings to variability in water mass transformations and AABW export remain unclear. This study explores WMT variability via WMT volume budgets derived from Walin’s classic WMT framework, using three state-of-the-art, data-assimilating ocean reanalyses: Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean state estimate (ECCOv4), Southern Ocean State Estimate (SOSE) and Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA). From the model outputs, we diagnose a closed form of the water mass budget for AABW that explicitly accounts for transport across the WG boundary, surface forcing, interior mixing, and numerical mixing. We examine the annual mean climatology of the WMT budget terms, the seasonal climatology, and finally the interannual variability. In ECCO and SOSE, we see strong interannual variability in AABW volume budget. In SOSE, we find an accelerating loss of AABW, driven largely by interior mixing and changes in surface salt fluxes. ECCO shows a similar trend during a 3-yr time period beyond what is covered in SOSE, but also reveals such trends to be part of interannual variability over a much longer time period. Overall, ECCO provides the most useful timeseries for understanding the processes and mechanisms that drive WMT and export variability. SODA, in contrast, displays unphysically large variability in AABW volume, which we attribute to its data assimilation scheme. We examine correlations between the WMT budgets and large-scale climate indices, including ENSO and SAM; no strong relationships emerge, suggesting that these reanalysis products may not reproduce the AABW export pathways and mechanisms hypothesized from observations. 
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