Direct observations of formation and propagation of subpolar eddies into the Subtropical North Atlantic Academic Article uri icon


  • Subsurface float and moored observations are presented to show for the first time the formation and propagation of anticyclonic submesoscale coherent vortices that transport relatively cold, fresh subpolar water to the interior subtropical North Atlantic. Acoustically tracked RAFOS floats released in the southward-flowing Western Boundary Current at the exit of the Labrador Sea reveal the formation of three of these eddies at the southern tip of the Grand Banks (42 N, 50 W). Using a recently developed method to detect eddies in float trajectories and estimate their kinematic properties, it was found that the eddies had average rotation periods of 5--7 days at radii of 1025 km, with mean rotation speeds of up to 0.3 m/s. One especially long-lived (5.1 months) eddy crossed under the Gulf Stream path and translated southwestward in the subtropical recirculation to at least 35 N, where it hit one of the Corner Rise Seamounts. Velocity, temperature and salinity measurements from a nine-month deployment of two moorings south of the Gulf Stream at 38 N, 50 W reveal the passage of at least two eddies with similar hydrographic and kinematic properties. The core temperature and salinity properties of the eddies imply their formation at intermediate levels of the Labrador Current south of the Tail of the Grand Banks. These observations confirm earlier speculation that eddies form in this region and transport anomalously cold, low-salinity water directly into the subtropical interior. Possible formation mechanisms and potential importance of these eddies to interior ventilation and the equatorward spreading of Labrador Sea Water are discussed.

publication date

  • January 2013