North Atlantic circulation and variability, reviewed for the CNLS conference

Talley, LD.  1996.  North Atlantic circulation and variability, reviewed for the CNLS conference. Physica D. 98:625-646.

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Antarctic Intermediate Water, Bermuda oceanographic station, decadal ocean variability, deep-water, greenland sea, heat-transport, labrador sea-water, mediterranean water, meridional, North Atlantic, North Atlantic circulation, ocean, oscillation, potential vorticity, south-atlantic, water mass production, western boundary current


The circulation and water mass structure of the North Atlantic are reviewed, with emphasis on the large-scale overturning cell which produces North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW). Properties and transports for its major components (Nordic Seas Overflow Water, Labrador Sea Water, Mediterranean Water, Antarctic Intermediate Water and Antarctic Bottom Water) are reviewed. The transport estimates and properties of NADW coupled with the observed meridional heat transport in the Atlantic limit the temperature of northward flow which replenishes the NADW to the range 11-15 degrees C. The high salinity of the North Atlantic compared with other ocean basins is important for its production of intermediate and deep waters; about one third of its higher evaporation compared with the North Pacific is due to the Mediterranean. The evaporation/precipitation balance for the North Atlantic is similar to the Indian and South Atlantic Oceans; the difference between the North and South Atlantic may be that high evaporation in the North Atlantic affects much greater depths through Mediterranean Water production. Also described briefly is variability of water properties in the upper layers of the subtropical/subpolar North Atlantic, as linked to the North Atlantic Oscillation. The oceanographic time series at Bermuda is then used to show decadal variations in the properties of the Subtropical Mode Water, a thick layer which lies in the upper 500 m. Salinity of this layer and at the sea surface increases during periods when the North Atlantic westerlies weaken between Iceland and the Azores and shift southwestward. (The North Atlantic Oscillation index is low during these periods). Temperature at the surface and in this layer are slightly negatively correlated with salinity, decreasing when salinity increases. It is hypothesized that the salinity increases result from incursion of saline water from the eastern subtropical gyre forced by the southward migration of the westerlies, and that the small temperature decreases are due to increased convection in the Sargasso Sea, also resulting from the southward shift of the westerlies.