Horizontal Scales of Variability over the Middle Atlantic Bight Shelf Break and Continental Rise from Finescale Observations Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Observations with fine horizontal resolution are used to identify the horizontal scales of variability over the Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) shelf break and continental rise. Spray gliders collected observations along two alongshelf transects over the continental rise in March–April 2006 and along 16 cross-shelf transects over the shelf break and continental rise during July–October 2007. Horizontal resolution varied from 1 km or finer over the shelf to 6 km in deep water. These observations allow horizontal thermohaline variability offshore of the MAB shelf break to be examined for the first time. Structure functions of temperature and salinity, the mean square difference between observations separated by specified distances, reveal the horizontal spatial scales in the region. Exponential (e-folding) scales of temperature and salinity increase from 8–13 km near the shelf break to about 30 km over the continental rise. Just offshore of the shelf break, alongshelf structure functions exhibit periodicity with a 40–50-km wavelength that matches the wavelength of shelfbreak frontal meanders. Farther offshore, alongshelf structure functions suggest a dominant wavelength of 175–250 km, but these scales are only marginally resolved by the available observations. Examination of structure functions of along-isopycnal salinity (i.e., spice) suggests that interleaving of shelf and slope water masses contributes most of the horizontal variability near the MAB shelf break, but heaving of isopycnals is the primary source of horizontal variability over the continental rise.

publication date

  • January 1, 2013