The mean heat and salt balances over the Middle Atlantic Bight continental shelf are investigated by testing the hypothesis that surface fluxes of heat or freshwater are balanced by along-isobath fluxes resulting from the mean, depth-averaged, along-isobath flow acting on the mean, depth-averaged, along-isobath temperature or salinity gradient. This hypothesized balance is equivalent in a Lagrangian frame to a column of water, for example, warming because of surface heating as it is advected southward along isobath by the mean flow.
Mean depth-averaged temperatures increase from north to south along isobath at a rate of 2°C (1000 km)?1 at midshelf, which is consistent with the hypothesized balance and mean surface heat flux estimates from the 50-yr NCEP Reanalysis. However, mean surface heat flux estimates from the higher-resolution 20-yr Objectively Analyzed Air–Sea Fluxes (OAFlux) reanalysis are too small to balance the along-isobath heat flux divergence implying a cross-shelf heat flux convergence. It is unclear which surface heat flux estimate, NCEP or OAFlux, is more accurate. The cross-shelf heat flux convergence resulting from the mean cross-shelf circulation is too small to balance the along-isobath heat flux divergence.
Mean depth-averaged salinities increase from north to south along isobath at a rate of 1 (psu) (1000 km)?1 at midshelf. Mean precipitation and evaporation rates nearly balance so that the net freshwater flux is too small by more than an order of magnitude to account for the observed along-isobath increase in salinity. The cross-shelf salt flux divergence resulting from the mean cross-shelf circulation has the wrong sign to balance the divergence in the along-isobath salt flux. These results imply there must be an onshore “eddy” salt flux resulting from the time-dependent current and salinity variability.
The along-isobath temperature and salinity gradients compensate for each other so that the mean, depth-averaged, along-isobath density gradient is approximately zero. This suggests that there may be a feedback between the along-isobath density gradient and the onshore salt and heat fluxes that maintains the density gradient near zero.