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

The role of propagating signals in the gyre-scale interannual to decadal sea level variability in the subpolar North Atlantic

Denis Volkov1,2, Claudia Schmid2, Leah Chomiak1,2,3, Cyril Germineaud4, Shenfu Dong2, and Marlos Goes1,2
Denis Volkov et al.
  • 1Cooperative Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Studies, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
  • 2NOAA Atlantic Oceanographic and Meteorological Laboratory, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
  • 3Rosenstiel School of Marine, Atmospheric, and Earth Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida 33149, USA
  • 4Mercator Ocean International, Toulouse, France

The gyre-scale, dynamic sea surface height (SSH) variability signifies the spatial redistribution of heat and freshwater in the ocean, influencing the ocean circulation, weather, climate, sea level, and ecosystems. It is known that the first empirical orthogonal function (EOF) mode of the interannual SSH variability in the North Atlantic exhibits a tripole gyre pattern, with the subtropical gyre varying out of phase with both the subpolar gyre and the tropics, influenced by the low-frequency North Atlantic Oscillation. We show that the first EOF mode explains the majority (60 %–90 %) of the interannual SSH variance in the Labrador and Irminger Sea, whereas the second EOF mode is more influential in the northeastern part of the subpolar North Atlantic (SPNA), explaining up to 60 %–80% of the regional interannual SSH variability. We find that the two leading modes do not represent physically independent phenomena. On the contrary, they evolve as a quadrature pair associated with a propagation of SSH anomalies from the eastern to the western SPNA. This is confirmed by the complex EOF analysis, which can detect propagating (as opposed to stationary) signals. The analysis shows that it takes about 2 years for sea level signals to propagate from the Iceland Basin to the Labrador Sea, and it takes 7–10 years for the entire cycle of the North Atlantic SSH tripole to complete. We demonstrate that the observed interannual-to-decadal variability of SSH, including the westward propagation of SSH anomalies, is the result of a complex interplay between the local wind and surface buoyancy forcing, and the advection of properties by mean ocean currents. The relative contribution of each forcing term to the variability is space and time dependent. We show that the most recent cooling and freshening observed in the SPNA since about 2010 were mostly driven by advection associated with the North Atlantic Current. The results of this study indicate that signal propagation is an important component of the North Atlantic SSH tripole, as it applies to the SPNA.


How to cite: Volkov, D., Schmid, C., Chomiak, L., Germineaud, C., Dong, S., and Goes, M.: The role of propagating signals in the gyre-scale interannual to decadal sea level variability in the subpolar North Atlantic, EGU General Assembly 2023, Vienna, Austria, 24–28 Apr 2023, EGU23-17084,, 2023.