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Crée / Actualisé 21.07.2018 / 24.07.2018
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Deep Western boundary current: the passage of the equator! 

ausgelassen. sehr kompliziert! 

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Antarctic bottom water formation. 

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The bottom layer of the world's ocean is filled with a thick layer of very cold water with potential temperature lower than 2°C. 

The origin of this water are a few sites along the contiental margin of Antarctica, where cold water is formed during Southern Hemisphere winter:

  1. very cold wind from glacial ice on Antarctica blows over the coastal ocean adjacent, driving sea ice away from the coasts and thus creating coastal polynyas (small open water areas surrounded by ice). 
  2. Strong cooling over polynyas produces more sea ice, and salt rejection during sea ice formation creates cold dense water with high salinity. 
  3. this dense water overflow the continental slope. 
  4. The offshore transport of the newly formed bottom water is compensated by the onshore flow of water in the subsurface layer. 
  5. During the descent along the slope, it entrains the water in the environment; thus, it is slightly warmed up from -2°C to -1°C. Eventually, it sinks to the bottom with a temperature of nearly 0°C. 
  6. Due to virgorous entrainment, the total volume flux of the final product is greatly increased. 
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How is the Circumpolar Deep Water transformed into AADW and AAIW?

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Meridional circulation pattern of the Southern Oceanis dominated by the upwelling of a warm, salty water mass called Circumpolar Deep Water and its transformation into Antarctic Surface Water, which ultimately sinks to become Antarctic Intermediate Water and Antarctic Bottom Water. The circulation is driven by wind and the exchange of heat and freshwater between the ocean and the atmosphere.

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What kinds of polynyas do exist? 

sensible heat polynyas: thermdynamically driven: occur when warmer water upwells

latent heat polynyas: formed through action of wind, tides, or ocean currents

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What are the most important spots for Antarctic Latent Heat Polynyas?

...are found in many locations around the coastline and ice shelf edge. 

Three polynya regions are most productive of AABW:

  1. the southern Weddel Sea (68%)
  2. the Ross Sea (8%)
  3. Adelie Land (24%)

Sea Ice production is large in latent heat polynayas, so productions maps can help to indentify latent heat polynya spots!

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Warming of the AABW

  • Warming can be followed along the path of AABW from the Weddel Sea into the Altantic. 
  • Warming below 4000m contributes 16% to the total ocean heat uptake. 
  • thermal expansion of water below 4000m contributes 9% to sea level rise. 
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Where dominates the NADW and where the AABW? 

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The distributionofthedepthintegral ofthefractionofAABW in theglobal ocean. NADW-derivedwatersdominatein theNorth AtlanticwhileAABW-derivedwatersdominatein theAntarcticCircumpolarCurrent(ACC) andin theIndian andPacific basins.

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What is the MOC? 

  • The MOC is a geometric formulation, which tries to reduce a complex 3D flow field into a 2D (y-z plane) streamfunction. 
  • The MOC is not the thermohaline circulation, i.e. the circulation associated with changes in temperature and salinity. 
  • The MOC includes aspects of the wind-driven and the thermohaline circulation. 
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What drives the MOC?

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The primary north-south gradient - as a result of the surface forcing - is in balance with an eastward geostrophic current which generates a secondary high and low pressure system. This, in turn, drives a northward geostrophic current, the upper branch of the MOC circulation. 

There are still competing hypothesis for the forcing of the overturning. Howeever, it is clear, tha tit is not simply pushed by meridional density gradients. 

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Sandström's tank experiments. What does it say? 

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It depends on the location of heating in a tank experiment, when circulation shall develop. 

The red parcel is expanded by heating, the blue compressed by cooling. Theleft case does not produce a significant circulation, while in the right case an overturning circulation develops. 

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What is now the driver of the MOC?

The vertical diffusion on the other hand warms water masses at depth in a stably stratified ocean and thus it can drive the overturning against friction. This forcing mechanism is the basic mechanism driving the Stommel-Aronsmodel discussed in lecture 10.

Another mechanism that can break the Sandströmconstraint is direct driving of a large scale circulation by windstress.

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What do we know about changes of the Atlantic MOC? 

  • IPCC model runs suggest future reduction of the Atlantic MOC
  • Recent changes from numerical models indicate upward trend in AMOC strength between the early 1970s and mid-1990s.
  • Multidecadal basin-scale changes in the Atlantic Ocean are probably related to the thermohaline circulation. 
  • AMOC was nearly eliminated during the coldest deglacial interval in the North Atlantic region beginning with the catastrophic iceberg discharge Heinrich event 17500yr ago. 
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How can we estimate the MOC from observations, locally, globaly? 

  1. Using mean cross-basin hydrographic sections referenced against absolute velocities derived from altimetry floats.
    1. Calculate mean temperature, salinity and density field from several sections across Labrador Sea
    2. Calculate relative geostrophic velocity
    3. Reference velocity with abolute velocities from floats
    4. Adjust absolute velocity to conserve mass.  
  2. Global inverse modelling of cross-basin hydrographic sections
    1. Linear system of equation with more unknows than constraints: no single solution; it is an optimization problem. 
  3. MOC temporal variability can only be observed with large observational efforts, including moored boundary current and geostrophic measurements
    1. RAPID-MOC array:
    2. An estimate of the meridional flow relating to the MOC along 26.5°N can be obtained by decomposing it into three components:
      1. transport through the Florida Straits
        1. induction messurements through a cable -> salty seawater conduct electricity. 
      2. flow induced by the interaction between wind and the ocean surface (Ekman transport)
        1. Ekman contribution to the MOC is relatively small. However, it is responsible for the largest subannual variability in the MOC. 
      3. transport related to the difference in sea water density between the American and African continents. 
  4. Global assimilation models
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What is the correct answer if someone asks me if the MOC changes? 

We expect a reduction of the AMOC with ongoing climate change. Although there are some hints, measurements are not able to show a significant MOC weakening. 

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  1. Name the the gyres of the Atlantic, the sign of the wind stress curl, the direction of their Sverdrup transport and the main surface currents! 
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  1. subpolar gyre
    1. positive wind stress curl -> northward Sverdrup transport 
  2. subtropical gyre
    1. negative wind stress curl -> southward Sverdrup transport 
  3. tropical gyre
    1. positive windstress curl -> northward Sverdrup transport 
  4. equatorial gyre
    1. negative windstress curl
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Sketch the heat fluxes through the sea surface in latitudinal dependency and explain!

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definitions: downward flux >0; upward flux <0;


  • solar radiation (nearly transparent atmosphere for solar radiation)
  • main: increases with decreasing latitude; second importance: cloud climatology
  • maxima can be found at equatorial cold tongues (east side of the ocean basins), where low cloudiness can be found


  • major outgoing flux of the ocean surface
  • evaporation 
  • global maxima can be found at western boundary outflow regimes 
    • Kuroshio Stream, Gulf Stream
    • here warm SST's meet cold and dry air from the continents
  • strong latent heat loss exists at extratropics/subtropics
  • relatively low latent heat flux at the cold tongues of surface waters in the eastern equatorial Pacific and Atlantic Oceans. 
  • small latent heat loss at high latitudes due to low SST's

longwave radiation:

  • longwave radiation is controlled by the difference of ingoing and outgoing longwave radiation
    • at low latitudes, the outgoing radiation is rather low because SST don't exceed atmospheric temperatures
    • in subtropical regions and the western boundary, the outgoing longwave radiation is the highest because of heat transport northwards. 


  • controlled by the difference between ocean surface temperature and the atmosphere's temperature 
    • is maximal at the western boundary outflow regimes
    • positive at high latitudes due to stronger atmospheric heat transport
    • positive at upwelling regions (east-side of the ocean basins)

net flux:

  • in first-order increases with decreasing latitude
    • poleward heat transport! 
    • the strongest gain at the Pacific and Atlantic cold tongues
    • the biggest loss at the western boundary outflow regimes 
    • major loss at Atlantics high latitudes due to strong meridional overturning circulation.


Rui Xing Huang et al. 2010: S. 6

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In which three components the large-scale flow in the ocean can be divided? 

  1. thermohaline circulation 
  2. wind-driven circulation 
  3. tidal flow
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What is the wind-driven circulation?

  • Wind-driven circulation generally refers to the circulation in the upper ocean (~1km) which is primarily driven by wind stress. 
  • Wind stress can drive horizontal circulation in a homogeneous ocean; thus, the existence of a wind-driven circulation is independent of the surface thermohaline forcing. 
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What is the thermohaline circulation? 

  • generally refers to the circulation associated with differences in temperature and salinity in the ocean, although the exact definition remains debatable.

the definition:

  1. Thermohaline circulation is a circulation driven by mechanical stirring, which transports mass, heat, freshwater and other properties in the meridional/zonal direction. Mechanical stirring is supported by external sources of mechanical energy from wind stress and tidal dissipation. 
  2. Surface heat and freshwater fluxes are necessary for setting up the circulation. 


  • variability: decadal to millenial and centennial timescales. 
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Explain the rough picture of the unified thermohaline and wind-driven circulation! 

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How is the precipitation distributed?

  1. Maxima in the Intertropical Convergence Zone and minima over subtropical gyres associated with Hadley circulation 
  2. strong east-west difference in the Pacific Ocean associated with Walker Circulation 
  3. Maxima over the Western Boundary Currents 
  4. Maxima over monsoon regions (West India, Bay of Bengal, Southeast Asia)
  5. Minima over upwelling regions
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surface temperature distribution in the worlds ocean

  1. sea surface temperature is reduced in poleward direction 
  2. sea surface temperature is the highest in the Warm Pool in the western equatorial Pacific and eastern equatorial Indian Oceans.
  3. strong zonal temperature gradient along the equatorial band of the Pacific Ocean with the Cold Tongue at the eastern basin. (but also in other Oceans)
  4. In the subtropical basin, temperature is generally high at the western basin and low at the eastern basin due to anticyclonic subtropical gyres. In subpolar basin, the zonal temperature gradient flips sign. 
  5. in the Southern Ocean, there is a very strong thermal front around the latitudal band of 40°-50° S. This cold front is due to the strong upwelling driven by the Southern Westerlies. 
  6. the surface density is primarily controlled by SST except for the high latitudes. 


Abbildung S. 18 (Huang)

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  • surface salinity distribution of the worlds oceans.
  • strong linkage between the surface salinity and net freshwater flux (evaporation-precipitation)(nearly linear relationship)
  • "halocline catastrophe": linkage between salinity and freshwaterflux is unidirectional and anomalies can persist (instead of SST for example). The halocline catastrophe is the persistence of freshwater anomalies at high latitudes. 
  • surface density is primarily controlled by surface salinity at high latitudes 
  • surface salinity is the lowest in the Gulf of Bengal due to high precipitation and huge amount of river run-off
  • surface salinity is very high in the Arabian Sea, due to strong evaporation.


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surface density distribution of the worlds ocean

  • is dynamically linked to the currents
  • is primarily controlled by the temperature distribution, except the high latitudes, where it is primarily controlled by surface salinity.
  • the lowest sea surface density can be found at the Gulf of Bengal and the Warm Pool due to strong freshwater input. 
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meridional distribution of surface density, temperature, and salinity.

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Surface water in the Southern Hemisphere is colder and saltier than that in the Northern Hemisphere. 

The combination of the Antartic continent and the adjacent circumpolar water chanel creates the coldest and densest surface water in the worlds ocean's, which sinks to the bottom of the world's oceans and dominates the abyssal circulation. 


Abb. 1.18, S.22

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zonal distribution of sea surface temperature, salinity and density. 

Attribution de licence: Non précisé
  1. closely related to the circulation by wind stress (upwelling and downwelling regions. 
  2. the second major factor are the wind-driven gyres
    1. Cyclonic gyres in the subpolar basins bring relatively warm water to the eastern part of the subpolar basin and relatively cold water to the western part of the subpolar basin.
    2. Anticyclonic subtropical gyres bring relatively cold water to the eastern part of the subtropical basin and relatively warm water to the western part of the subpolar basin. 
  3. Strong cold air from the Eurasien and American continent must contribute to the low surface temperatures at the western basin of the Pacific and Atlantic.


Additionally, there is a major contrast between Atlantic and Pacific.

  • SST in the eastern and middle parts of the northern North Atlantic Ocean is about 5°C warmer than the zonal mean temperature. In comparison, sea surface temperature along the eastern boundary of the northern Pacific Ocean is only slightly warmer than the zonal mean temperature. 
    • The dramatic difference arises due the strong MOC in the Atlantic, which is missing in the Pacific. 
  • Sea surface salinity is also much higher in the Atlantic than in the Pacific (especially north Atlantic). 


Although higher temperatures compensating this partly, the SS density is much higher in the North Atlantic, than in the North Pacific. This is the most crucial dynamic factor regulating the deepwater formation in the Norther Hemisphere. 

reasons for the strong salinity differences may be found in: differences in the hydrological cycle, land-sea distribution and the fact, that there is a strong freshwater transport from the Atlantic to the Pacific over narrow middle america due to the westerlies.

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Sketch the meridional oceanic and atmospheric freshwater transport. 

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positive values means a northward transport of freshwater. 

  • The transport by the Mississipi is in comparison very weak. 
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What is the main change in the hydrological cycle and salinity distribution due to global warming?

  • hydrological cycle increases
  • salinity differences increases (salty becomes saltier and fresh becomes fresher)
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What factors drives the temporal evolution of the sea level?

  1. freshwater flux 
    1. precitpitation 
    2. evaporation 
    3. river run-off
  2. divergence
  3. thermosteric effect (by temperature only)
  4. halosteric effect (by salinity only)


the steric effect is defined as the difference between the hight of a reference fluid and a fluid with specific salinity and temperature (also steric height).

the steric effect causes the steric height of a fluid with a specific salinity and temperature. 

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Sea level change due to global warming. Is the thermosteric or the halosteric effect stronger?

The thermosteric effect clearly dominates the halosteric effect.