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Eddy transport as a key component of the Antarctic overturning circulation

Thompson, Andrew F. and Heywood, Karen J. and Schmidtko, Sunke and Steward, Andrew L. (2014) Eddy transport as a key component of the Antarctic overturning circulation. Nature Geoscience, 7 (12). pp. 879-884. ISSN 1752-0894. doi:10.1038/ngeo2289.

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The exchange of water masses across the Antarctic continental shelf break regulates the export of dense shelf waters to depth as well as the transport of warm, mid-depth waters towards ice shelves and glacial grounding lines. The penetration of the warmer mid-depth waters past the shelf break has been implicated in the pronounced loss of ice shelf mass over much of west Antarctica. In high-resolution, regional circulation models, the Antarctic shelf break hosts an energetic mesoscale eddy field, but observations that capture this mesoscale variability have been limited. Here we show, using hydrographic data collected from ocean gliders, that eddy-induced transport is a primary contributor to mass and property fluxes across the slope. Measurements along ten cross-shelf hydrographic sections show a complex velocity structure and a stratification consistent with an onshore eddy mass flux. We show that the eddy transport and the surface wind-driven transport make comparable contributions to the total overturning circulation. Eddy-induced transport is concentrated in the warm, intermediate layers away from frictional boundaries. We conclude that understanding mesoscale dynamics will be critical for constraining circumpolar heat fluxes and future rates of retreat of Antarctic ice shelves.

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Thompson, Andrew F.0000-0003-0322-4811
Heywood, Karen J.0000-0001-9859-0026
Additional Information:© 2014 Macmillan Publishers Limited. Received 23 April 2014. Accepted 09 October 2014. Published online 10 November 2014. The authors thank the officers and crew of the RRS James Clark Ross for help in deploying and recovering the gliders. A.F.T. was financially supported by NSF award OPP-1246460. S.S. and K.J.H. were financially supported by the NERC Antarctic Funding Initiative research grant GENTOO NE/H01439X/1. A.L.S. was supported by the President’s and Director’s Fund program at Caltech. K.J.H. and A.F.T. conceived and designed the field program; A.F.T., K.J.H. and S.S. collected the data; S.S. processed the data; A.F.T. and S.S. analysed the data; A.F.T., K.J.H., S.S. and A.L.S. co-wrote the paper. Competing financial interests: The authors declare no competing financial interests. All data used in this study are archived at the British Oceanographic Data Centre,, cruise JR255A.
Funding AgencyGrant Number
Natural Environment Research Council (NERC)GENTOO NE/H01439X/1
Caltech President's and Director's Fund ProgramUNSPECIFIED
Issue or Number:12
Record Number:CaltechAUTHORS:20141001-135636412
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Usage Policy:No commercial reproduction, distribution, display or performance rights in this work are provided.
ID Code:50151
Deposited By: Katherine Johnson
Deposited On:11 Nov 2014 17:11
Last Modified:10 Nov 2021 18:52

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