EGU21-3500, updated on 19 Oct 2022
EGU General Assembly 2021
© Author(s) 2022. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Role of the density structure and air-sea fluxes on subpolar transformation

Tillys Petit1, M. Susan Lozier1, Simon A. Josey2, and Stuart A. Cunningham3
Tillys Petit et al.
  • 1Georgia Institute of Technology, Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, Atlanta, United States of America
  • 2National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK
  • 3Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK

Convection in the North Atlantic Ocean is a key component of the global overturning circulation (MOC) as it produces dense water at high latitudes. Recent work has highlighted the dominant role of the Irminger and Iceland basins in the production of the North Atlantic deep waters. Dense water formation in these basins is mainly explained by buoyancy forcing that transforms surface waters to the deep waters of the MOC lower limb. Air-sea fluxes and the surface density field are both key determinants of the buoyancy-driven transformation. To better understand the connection between atmospheric forcing and the Atlantic overturning circulation, we analyze the contributions of the air-sea fluxes and of the density structure to the transformation of surface water over the eastern subpolar gyre. More precisely, we consider the densification of subpolar mode water (SPMW) in the Iceland Basin that ‘pre-conditions’ the dense water formation downstream. Analyses using 40 years of observations (1980–2019) reveal that variability in transformation is only weakly sensitive to changes in the heat and freshwater fluxes. Instead, changes in SPMW transformation are largely driven by the variance in the surface density structure, as expressed by the outcropping area for those isopycnals that define SPMW.This large influence of the surface density on the SPMW transformation partly explains the unusually large SPMW transformation in winter 2014–15 over the Iceland Basin.  

How to cite: Petit, T., Lozier, M. S., Josey, S. A., and Cunningham, S. A.: Role of the density structure and air-sea fluxes on subpolar transformation, EGU General Assembly 2021, online, 19–30 Apr 2021, EGU21-3500,, 2021.


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