Articles | Volume 6, issue 4
01 Oct 2010
 | 01 Oct 2010

On the seasonal cycles and variability of Florida Straits, Ekman and Sverdrup transports at 26° N in the Atlantic Ocean

C. P. Atkinson, H. L. Bryden, J. J-M. Hirschi, and T. Kanzow

Abstract. Since April 2004 the RAPID array has made continuous measurements of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) at 26° N. Two key components of this system are Ekman transport zonally integrated across 26° N and western boundary current transport in the Florida Straits. Whilst measurements of the AMOC as a whole are somewhat in their infancy, this study investigates what useful information can be extracted on the variability of the Ekman and Florida Straits transports using the decadal timeseries already available. Analysis is also presented for Sverdrup transports zonally integrated across 26° N.

The seasonal cycles of Florida Straits, Ekman and Sverdrup transports are quantified at 26° N using harmonic analysis of annual and semi-annual constituents. Whilst Sverdrup transport shows clear semi-annual periodicity, calculations of seasonal Florida Straits and Ekman transports show substantial interannual variability due to contamination by variability at non-seasonal frequencies; the mean seasonal cycle for these transports only emerges from decadal length observations. The Florida Straits and Ekman mean seasonal cycles project on the AMOC with a combined peak-to-peak seasonal range of 3.5 Sv. The combined seasonal range for heat transport is 0.40 PW.

The Florida Straits seasonal cycle possesses a smooth annual periodicity in contrast with previous studies suggesting a more asymmetric structure. No clear evidence is found to support significant changes in the Florida Straits seasonal cycle at sub-decadal periods. Whilst evidence of wind driven Florida Straits transport variability is seen at sub-seasonal and annual periods, a model run from the 1/4° eddy-permitting ocean model NEMO is used to identify an important contribution from internal oceanic variability at sub-annual and interannual periods. The Ekman transport seasonal cycle possesses less symmetric structure, due in part to different seasonal transport regimes east and west of 50 to 60° W. Around 60% of non-seasonal Ekman transport variability occurs in phase section-wide at 26° N and is related to the NAO, whilst Sverdrup transport variability is more difficult to decompose.