On the variability of the deep meridional transports in the tropical North Atlantic Academic Article uri icon


  • A 5-year-long time series of meridional transport below 1180d bar-zonally integrated across a section spanning, the western basin of the tropical North Atlantic-is analyzed. It has been inferred from (i) zonally integrated meridional geostrophic transports derived from density and bottom pressure measurements at the end points of a 1000 km wide section bounded by the base of the western continental rise and the Mid-Atlantic Ridge and (ii) mooring-based direct current meter measurements over the steep Lesser Antilles continental rise. The southward time mean transport of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) transport is 15.9Sv. The vertical shear of the geostrophic transport profiles in the western and eastern part of the section each show two layers of maximum southward transport within the NADW. The transport time series reveals changes of 7.7 Sv rms at periods of 1 month and longer, at times showing changes of up to 405v within a month’s time. The baroclinic (internal) contribution of the geostrophic flow (relative to 4950 dbar), yields fluctuations of 6.6 Sv rms. Adding transports over the steep continental rise reduces the overall transport variability to 5.2 Sv rms. As a result of this reduction in shorter-period variability, the lower-frequency variability becomes more pronounced, part of which is expected to be linked to the meridional overturning circulation (MOC). The transport variability is consistent with baroclinic Rossby waves (at periods between 3 and 9 months), dominating in the eastern and central part of the section, and with changes in deep western boundary current (DWBC) strength, DWBC re-circulation patterns and eddies that become important in the western part of the section. The reference-level (external) geostrophic transport variability displays long-wavelength (> 2000 km) fluctuations of 7.5 Sv rms on periods less than 2 weeks that are consistent with barotropic Rossby waves. Numerical model simulations imply that the observed zonally integrated deep transport changes in the western basin have moderate skill in sensing changes in the MOC and in meridional heat transport, and that a now implemented extension of the array’s integration scale into the eastern basin of the Atlantic would substantially improve the performance of the array as an MOC observing system. Crown Copyright (C) 2008 Published by Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • December 2008