Articles | Volume 11, issue 5
Research article
22 Sep 2015
Research article |  | 22 Sep 2015

Transport of volume, heat, and salt towards the Arctic in the Faroe Current 1993–2013

B. Hansen, K. M. H. Larsen, H. Hátún, R. Kristiansen, E. Mortensen, and S. Østerhus

Abstract. The flow of warm and saline water from the Atlantic Ocean, across the Greenland–Scotland Ridge, into the Nordic Seas – the Atlantic inflow – is split into three separate branches. The most intense of these branches is the inflow between Iceland and the Faroe Islands (Faroes), which is focused into the Faroe Current, north of the Faroes. The Atlantic inflow is an integral part of the North Atlantic thermohaline circulation (THC), which is projected to weaken during the 21st century and might conceivably reduce the oceanic heat and salt transports towards the Arctic. Since the mid-1990s, hydrographic properties and current velocities of the Faroe Current have been monitored along a section extending north from the Faroe shelf. From these in situ observations, time series of volume, heat, and salt transport have previously been reported, but the high variability of the transport has made it difficult to establish whether there are trends. Here, we present results from a new analysis of the Faroe Current where the in situ observations have been combined with satellite altimetry. For the period 1993 to 2013, we find the average volume transport of Atlantic water in the Faroe Current to be 3.8 ± 0.5 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3 s−1) with a heat transport relative to 0 °C of 124 ± 15 TW (1 TW = 1012 W). Consistent with other results for the Northeast Atlantic component of the THC, we find no indication of weakening. The transports of the Faroe Current, on the contrary, increased. The overall increase over the 2 decades of observation was 9 ± 8 % for volume transport and 18 ± 9 % for heat transport (95 % confidence intervals). During the same period, the salt transport relative to the salinity of the deep Faroe Bank Channel overflow (34.93) more than doubled, potentially strengthening the feedback on thermohaline intensity. The increased heat and salt transports are partly caused by the increased volume transport and partly by increased temperatures and salinities of the Atlantic inflow, which have been claimed mainly to be caused by the weakened subpolar gyre.

Short summary
The Faroe Current is the main ocean current transporting warm Atlantic water into the Arctic region and an important transporter of heat towards the Arctic. This study documents observed transport variations over two decades, from 1993 to 2013. It shows that the volume transport of Atlantic water in this current increased by 9% over the period, whereas the heat transport increased by 18%. This increase will have contributed to the observed warming and sea ice decline in the Arctic.