The Ocean's Skin Layer in the Tropics

Wurl, Oliver; Landing, William M.; Hamizah Mustaffa, Nur Ili; Ribas-Ribas, Mariana; Witte, Carson Riggs; Zappa, Christopher J.

We provide a large data set on salinity anomalies in the ocean's skin layer together with temperature anomalies and meteorological forcing. We observed an average salinity anomaly of 0.40 ± 0.41 practical salinity unity (n = 23,743), and in 83% of the observations the salinity anomaly was positive; that is, the skin layer was more saline. Temperature anomalies determined by an infrared camera were −0.23 ± 0.28 °C (upper 20-μm layer in reference to nominal 1-mm depth) and slightly warmer with −0.19 ± 0.25 °C in an upper 80-μm layer in reference to 1-m depth. In 75% of the observations, our data confirmed the presence of a cooler skin layer. Light rain rates (<4 mm/hr) induced an immediate freshening by 0.25 practical salinity unit in the skin layer without any effect in the mixed layer at 1-m depth. Vertical mixing by strong winds (12 m/s) masked freshening during a heavy rain fall (47 mm/hr) by the intrusion of saltier deeper waters, but a freshening was observed after the wind and rain calmed down. We computed density anomalies, which suggest that denser skin layers can remain afloat up to a density anomaly of 1.3 g/L, likely due to the interfacial tension between the skin layer and underlying bulk water. It implies that salinization by evaporation regulates buoyancy fluxes, a key process for the exchange of climate-relevant gases and heat between the ocean and atmosphere.

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Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
Published Here
January 12, 2022