Boundary Currents and Watermass Transformation in Marginal Seas* Academic Article uri icon


  • The properties of watermass transformation and the thermohaline circulation in marginal seas with topography and subject to a spatially uniform net surface cooling are discussed. The net heat loss within the marginal sea is ultimately balanced by lateral advection from the open ocean in a narrow boundary current that flows cyclonically around the basin. Heat loss in the interior is offset by lateral eddy fluxes originating in the boundary current. The objectives of this study are to understand better what controls the density of waters formed within the marginal sea, the temperature of the outflowing waters, the amount of downwelling, and the mechanisms of heat transport within the marginal sea. The approach combines heat budgets with linear stability theory for a baroclinic flow over a sloping bottom to provide simple theoretical estimates of each of these quantities in terms of the basic parameters of the system. The theory compares well to a series of eddy-resolving primitive equation model calculations. The downwelling is concentrated within the boundary current in both a diffusive boundary layer near topography and an eddy-driven region on the offshore edge of the boundary current. For most high-latitude regions, the horizontal gyre is expected to transport more heat than does the overturning gyre.

publication date

  • May 2004