Spreading of Labrador Sea Water in the eastern North Atlantic Academic Article uri icon


  • The spreading of Labrador Sea Water (LSW) in the eastern North Atlantic south of 55 degrees N is described on the basis of recent, high-resolution hydrographic lines and using an inverse model of that basin general circulation. The isopycnic “salinity anomaly” relative to a standard theta/S curve is used to detect the main branches and limits of dominant influence of the intermediate water masses. The LSW crosses the Mid-Atlantic Ridge at latitudes around 50 degrees N with parts spreading farther eastward and southward. One southward pathway along the eastern side of the Mid-Atlantic-Ridge stands out as an eastern basin counterpart of the western Atlantic “Deep Western Boundary Current.” An entry into the Bay of Biscay in its northern part is also evidenced with striking similitudes between two data sets from 1974 and 1989-1990. At the southern limit of the LSW extension, in the vicinity of the Azores-Biscay Rise, a marked front exists basinwide around 1800 m with the more saline Deep Mediterranean Water (DMW). The inverse model velocity field is consistent with most features of the tracer distributions and allows estimation of LSW transports: 6.3 +/- 1.2 Sv of LSW with salinities lower than 34.94 cross the 35 degrees W meridian eastward between 44 degrees N and 54 degrees N, one fourth of which recirculates southwestward in the western basin, while another fourth turns northward across 54 degrees N and the remaining half proceeds southward in the eastern basin. The model circulation suggests that DMW results from mixing between eastern basin LSW and the overlying Mediterranean Outflow Water, most probably through double diffusion. We finally describe several mesoscale structures of anomalously high LSW influence south of the LSW-DMW front, notably one sampled by a RAFOS float. The velocity and potential vorticity fields suggest that these “LSW-eddies” are formed through baroclinic instability at the LSW-DMW front.

publication date

  • May 15, 1998