Theses Doctoral

Surface eddy mixing in the global subtropics

Busecke, Julius JM

The salinity of the ocean is inherently linked to the global hydrological cycle by net evaporation. The surface salinity, however does not just act like a 'rain gauge', ocean dynamics are vital in shaping the sea surface salinity (SSS) distribution. Here I investigate the effect of unsteady motions on scales of several hundred km and smaller - mesoscale eddies - on the water masses in the saltiest regions of the surface oceans. These water masses are eventually subducted equatorward and contribute to the shallow overturning circulation by transporting surface signals from the subtropics to the tropics, making them important components of the variable climate system. Towed CTD measurements in March/April 2013 (a component of the NASA SPURS process study) within the North Atlantic SSS maximum (SSS-max) reveal several relatively fresh and warm anomalies, which deviate strongly from climatological conditions. These features introduce a large amount of freshwater into the subtropical region, exceeding the amount introduced by local rain events. The scales and evolution of the features strongly suggest a connection to mesoscale dynamics. This is supported by high-resolution regional model output, which produces an abundance of features that are similar in scale and structure to those observed, confirming the importance of eddy mixing for the near surface salinity budget of the North Atlantic SSS-max. Observations from the Aquarius satellite and the Argo array in the global SSS-max revealed marked differences in the mean shape and variability of the SSS-maxima. These results motivated an investigation of the role of eddy mixing in setting the regional characteristics of SSS maxima. Observed surface velocities from altimetry are used to stir salinity fields in high-resolution idealized model experiments. Using a water mass framework (salinity coordinates) temporal variability in eddy mixing can be quantified, using diagnostics for the total diffusive flux into the SSS-maxima (transformation rate; TFR) as well as the estimated cross-contour diffusivity(effective diffusivity,$K_{eff}$). Both diagnostics reveal distinct variability in the different ocean basins. In the North Atlantic, both $TFR$ and $K_{eff}$ are dominated by changes in the velocity field while the North Pacific shows high sensitivity of the temporal variability in eddy mixing with respect to the initial conditions used, which represent seasonal/interannual change of the SSS-max shape and position. This implies that temporal variability of eddy mixing and diffusivities must be taken into account when constructing salinity budgets in these regions. Furthermore, the translation of results from one SSS-max region to the other might not be possible, particularly when considering a changing climate, which might influence the mechanisms responsible for temporal variability differently. Lastly evidence is presented for large scale diffusivity variability (particularly in the Pacific), connected to large scale climate fluctuations (ENSO). The evidence presented here suggests a significant modulation of surface diffusivities by climate variability, which represents a feedback mechanism not commonly recognized nor included in modern climate simulations.

Geographic Areas


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Gordon, Arnold L.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
July 29, 2017