EGU General Assembly 2023
© Author(s) 2023. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

The role of surface forcing in driving pathways and time scales of ocean ventilation in the subpolar North Atlantic

Alice Marzocchi1, George Nurser1, Louis Clement1, and McDonagh Elaine1,2
Alice Marzocchi et al.
  • 1National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, United Kingdom (
  • 2NORCE Norwegian Research Centre, Bergen, Norway

The ocean takes up 93 % of the excess heat in the climate system and approximately a quarter of the anthropogenic carbon via air–sea fluxes. Ocean ventilation and subduction are key processes that regulate the transport of water from the surface mixed layer to the ocean's interior, which is isolated from the atmosphere for a timescale set by the large-scale circulation. Using numerical simulations (NEMO framework), we assess where the ocean subducts water and takes up properties from the atmosphere, and how ocean currents transport and redistribute these properties. This is achieved by adding a set of simulated seawater vintage dyes (passive tracers) that are released annually from different ocean surface “patches”, representing water masses’ source regions. The dyes’ distribution captures years of strong and weak convection at deep and mode water formation sites in both hemispheres, showing good agreement with observations in the subpolar North Atlantic. We show that interannual variability in subduction rates, driven by changes in surface forcing, is key in setting the different sizes of the long-term inventory of the dyes. The Northern and Southern Hemispheres are characterised by different ventilation pathways and timescales, but our analysis highlights a strong correlation between the strength of ventilation in recently subducted waters and the longer-term dye inventory in each hemisphere. This means that the conditions close to the time of dye injection are driving the amount of seawater being subducted, but also that this signal persists over time and the longer-term tracer inventory is strongly related to the initial surface conditions. The correlation still holds for the different source regions, where it is even stronger, but the slope of the correlation does vary. Export and isolation of subducted waters is shown to be faster in the Northern Hemisphere, defining a stronger ventilation “persistence” – represented by the slope of the correlation between subduction and the longer-term inventory. The highest ventilation persistence is found in the subpolar North Atlantic and specifically in the Labrador and Irminger Seas, which are the dominant regions in retaining tracer on multi-decadal time scales.

How to cite: Marzocchi, A., Nurser, G., Clement, L., and Elaine, M.: The role of surface forcing in driving pathways and time scales of ocean ventilation in the subpolar North Atlantic, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-15913,, 2023.