Articles | Volume 3, issue 2
Ocean Sci., 3, 273–289, 2007

Special issue: Mediterranean Ocean Forecasting System: toward environmental...

Ocean Sci., 3, 273–289, 2007

  24 May 2007

24 May 2007

Effects of the 2003 European heatwave on the Central Mediterranean Sea: surface fluxes and the dynamical response

A. Olita1, R. Sorgente1, S. Natale2, S. Gaberšek*,2, A. Ribotti1, A. Bonanno3, and B. Patti3 A. Olita et al.
  • 1IAMC-CNR, Istituto per l'Ambiente Marino Costiero – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, c/o IMC Loc. Sa Mardini, 09170 Oristano, Italy
  • 2Fondazione ONLUS Centro Marino Internazionale-IMC, Loc. Sa Mardini, 09170 Oristano, Italy
  • 3IAMC-CNR, Istituto per l'Ambiente Marino Costiero – Consiglio Nazionale delle Ricerche, Via L. Vaccara 61, 91026 Mazara del Vallo (TP), Italy
  • *now at: University of Ljubljana, Department of Mathematics and Physics, Jadranska 19, Ljubljana, 1000-SI, Slovenia

Abstract. The effects of the 2003 European heatwave on the sea surface layer of the Central Mediterranean were studied using a regional 3-D ocean model. The model was used to simulate the period 2000 to 2004 and its performance was validated using remotely-sensed and in situ data. Analysis of the results focused on changes in the Sea Surface Temperature (SST) and on changes to the surface and sub-surface current field. This permitted us to identify and quantify the anomalies of atmospheric and sea surface parameters that accompanied the heatwave. The dominant annual cycle in each variable was first removed and a wavelet analysis then used to locate anomalies in the time-frequency domain.

We found that the excess heating affecting the sea surface in the summer of 2003 was related to a significant increase in air temperature, a decrease in wind stress and reduction of all components of the upward heat flux. The monthly averages of the model SST were found to be in good agreement with remotely-sensed data during the period studied, although the ocean model tended to underestimate extreme events. The spatial distribution of SST anomalies as well as their time-frequency location was similar for both the remotely-sensed and model temperatures. We also found, on the basis of the period of the observed anomaly, that the event was not limited to the few summer months of 2003 but was part of a longer phenomenon. Both the model results and experimental data suggest the anomalous heating mainly affected the top 15 m of ocean and was associated with strong surface stratification and low mixing.

The skill of the model to reproduce the sub-surface hydrographic features during the heatwave was checked by comparison with temperature and salinity measurements. This showed that the model was generally in good agreement with observations. The model and observations showed that the anomalous warming also modified the currents in the region, most noticeably the Atlantic Ionian Stream (AIS) and the Atlantic Tunisian Current (ATC). The AIS was reduced in intensity and showed less meandering, mainly due to the reduced density gradient and low winds, while the ATC was enhanced in strength, the two currents appearing to modulate each other in order to conserve the total transport of Modified Atlantic Water.