Mean and time-varying meridional transport of heat at the tropical/subtropical boundary of the North Pacific Ocean Academic Article uri icon


  • Ocean heat transport near the tropical/subtropical boundary of the North Pacific during 1993-1999 is described, including its mean and time variability. Twenty-eight trans-Pacific high-resolution expendable bathythermograph (XBT)/expendable conductivity-temperature-depth (XCTD) transects are used together with directly measured and operational wind estimates to calculate the geostrophic and Ekman transports. The mean heat transport across the XBT transect was 0.83 +/- 0.12 pW during the 7 year period. The large number of transects enables a stable estimate of the mean field to be made, with error bars based on the known variability. The North Pacific heat engine is a shallow meridional overturning circulation that includes warm Ekman and western boundary current components flowing northward, balanced by a southward flow of cool thermocline waters (including Subtropical Mode Waters). A near-balance of geostrophic and Ekman transports holds in an interannual sense as well as for the time mean. Interannual variability in geostrophic transport is strikingly similar to the pattern of central North Pacific sea level pressure variability (the North Pacific Index). The interannual range in heat transport was more than 0.4 pW during 1993-1999, with maximum northward values about 1 pW in early 1994 and early 1997. The ocean heat transport time series is similar to that of European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts air-sea heat flux integrated over the Pacific north of the XBT line. The repeating nature of the XBT/XCTD transects, with direct wind measurements, allows a substantial improvement over previous heat transport estimates based on one-time transects. A global system is envisioned for observing the time-varying ocean heat transport and its role in the Earth’s heat budget and climate system.

publication date

  • May 15, 2001