Articles | Volume 12, issue 6
Research article
17 Nov 2016
Research article |  | 17 Nov 2016

A stable Faroe Bank Channel overflow 1995–2015

Bogi Hansen, Karin Margretha Húsgarð Larsen, Hjálmar Hátún, and Svein Østerhus

Abstract. The Faroe Bank Channel (FBC) is the deepest passage across the Greenland–Scotland Ridge (GSR) and there is a continuous deep flow of cold and dense water passing through it from the Arctic Mediterranean into the North Atlantic and further to the rest of the world ocean. This FBC overflow is part of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which has recently been suggested to have weakened. From November 1995 to May 2015, the FBC overflow has been monitored by a continuous ADCP (acoustic Doppler current profiler) mooring, which has been deployed in the middle of this narrow channel. Combined with regular hydrography cruises and several short-term mooring experiments, this allowed us to construct time series of volume transport and to follow changes in the hydrographic properties and density of the FBC overflow. The mean kinematic overflow, derived solely from the velocity field, was found to be (2.2 ± 0.2) Sv (1 Sv  =  106 m3 s−1) with a slight, but not statistically significant, positive trend. The coldest part, and probably the bulk, of the FBC overflow warmed by a bit more than 0.1 °C, especially after 2002, increasing the transport of heat into the deep ocean. This warming was, however, accompanied by increasing salinities, which seem to have compensated for the temperature-induced density decrease. Thus, the FBC overflow has remained stable in volume transport as well as density during the 2 decades from 1995 to 2015. After crossing the GSR, the overflow is modified by mixing and entrainment, but the associated change in volume (and heat) transport is still not well known. Whatever effect this has on the AMOC and the global energy balance, our observed stability of the FBC overflow is consistent with reported observations from the other main overflow branch, the Denmark Strait overflow, and the three Atlantic inflow branches to the Arctic Mediterranean that feed the overflows. If the AMOC has weakened during the last 2 decades, it is not likely to have been due to its northernmost extension – the exchanges across the Greenland–Scotland Ridge.

Short summary
The Faroe Bank Channel is one of the main passages for the flow of cold dense water from the Arctic into the depths of the world ocean where it feeds the deep branch of the AMOC. Based on in situ measurements, we show that the volume transport of this flow has been stable from 1995 to 2015. The water has warmed, but salinity increase has maintained its high density. Thus, this branch of the AMOC did not weaken during the last 2 decades, but increased its heat transport into the deep ocean.