Preprints
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2022-18
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2022-18
 
11 Apr 2022
11 Apr 2022
Status: this preprint is currently under review for the journal OS.

Exceptional freshening and cooling in the eastern subpolar North Atlantic caused by reduced Labrador Sea surface heat loss

Alan D. Fox1, Arne Biastoch2,3, Stuart A. Cunningham1, Neil Fraser1, Patricia Handmann2, N. Penny Holliday4, Clare Johnson1, Torge Martin2, Marilena Oltmanns4, Willi Rath2, Siren Rühs2,a, Alejandra Sanchez-Franks4, and Christina Schmidt2,b Alan D. Fox et al.
  • 1Scottish Association for Marine Science, Oban, UK
  • 2GEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany
  • 3Kiel University, Kiel, Germany
  • 4National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK
  • anow at: Institute for Marine and Atmospheric research Utrecht, Utrecht University, Netherlands
  • bnow at: Climate Change Research Centre and the Australian Centre for Excellence in Antarctic Science, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW, Australia

Abstract. Observations of the eastern subpolar North Atlantic in the 2010s show exceptional freshening and cooling of the upper ocean, peaking in 2016 with the lowest salinities recorded for 120 years. Published theories for the mechanisms driving the freshening include: reduced transport of saltier, warmer surface waters northwards from the subtropics associated with reduced meridional overturning; shifts in the pathways of fresher, cooler surface water from the Labrador Sea driven by changing patterns of wind stress; and the eastward expansion of the subpolar gyre. Using output from a high-resolution hindcast model simulation, we propose that the primary cause of the exceptional freshening and cooling is reduced surface heat loss in the Labrador Sea. Tracking virtual fluid particles in the model backwards from the eastern subpolar North Atlantic between 1990 and 2020 shows the major cause of the freshening and cooling to be an increased outflow of relatively fresh and cold surface waters from the Labrador Sea; with a minor contribution from reduced transport of warmer, saltier surface water northward from the subtropics. The cooling, but not the freshening, produced by changing proportions of source waters is mitigated by reduced along-track heat loss to the atmosphere in the North Atlantic Current. We analyse modelled boundary exchanges and water mass transformation in the Labrador Sea to show that since 2000, while inflows of lighter surface waters remain steady, the increasing output of these waters is due to reduced surface heat loss in the Labrador Sea beginning in the early 2000s. Tracking particles further upstream reveals the primary source of the increased volume of lighter water transported out of the Labrador Sea is increased recirculation of water, and therefore longer residence times, in the upper 500–1000 m of the subpolar gyre.

Alan D. Fox et al.

Status: open (until 06 Jun 2022)

Comment types: AC – author | RC – referee | CC – community | EC – editor | CEC – chief editor | : Report abuse
  • RC1: 'Comment on os-2022-18', Anonymous Referee #1, 05 May 2022 reply
  • RC2: 'Comment on os-2022-18 - Reviewer 2', Anonymous Referee #2, 12 May 2022 reply
  • RC3: 'Comment on os-2022-18', Anonymous Referee #3, 15 May 2022 reply

Alan D. Fox et al.

Alan D. Fox et al.

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Short summary
Observations of the eastern subpolar North Atlantic in the 2010s show exceptional freshening and cooling of the upper ocean, peaking in 2016 with the lowest salinities recorded for 120 years. Using output from a high-resolution hindcast model simulation, we propose that the primary cause is reduced surface cooling in the Labrador Sea, leading to increased outflow of relatively fresh and cold water in the upper ocean and so to freshening and cooling of the eastern subpolar North Atlantic.