Observing deep convection in the Labrador sea during winter 1994/95

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Journal of Physical Oceanography
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A 12-month mooring record (May 1994-June 1995), together with accompanying PALACE float data, is used to describe an annual cycle of deep convection and restratification in the Labrador Sea. The mooring is located at 56.75 degrees N, 52.5 degrees W, near the former site of Ocean Weather Station Brave, in water of similar to 3500 m depth. This is a pilot experiment for climate monitoring, and also for studies of deep-convection dynamics. Mooring measurements include temperature (T), salinity (S), horizontal and vertical velocity, and acoustic measurement. of surface winds. The floats made weekly temperature-salinity profiles between their drift level (near 1500 m) and the surface.With moderately strong cooling to the atmosphere (similar to 300 W m(-2) averaged from November to March), wintertime convection penetrated from the surface to about 1750 m, overcoming the stabilizing effect of upper-ocean low-salinity water. The water column restratifies rapidly after brief vertical homogenization (in potential density, salinity, and potential temperature). Both the rapid restratification and the energetic high-frequency variations of T and S observed at the mooring are suggestive of a convection depth that varies greatly with location. Lateral variations in T and S exist down to very small scales, and these remnants of convection decay (with e-folding time similar to 170 day) after convection ceases. Lateral variability at the scale of 100 km is verified by PALACE profiles. The Eulerian mooring effectively samples the convection in a mesoscale region of ocean as eddies sweep past it; the Lagrangian PALACE floats are complementary in sampling the geography of deep convection more widely. This laterally variable convection leaves the water column with significant vertical gradients most of the year. Convection followed by lateral mixing gives vertical salinity profiles the (misleading) appearance that a one-dimensional diffusive process is fluxing freshwater downward.During spring, summer, and fall the salinity, temperature, and buoyancy rise steadily with time throughout most of the water column. This is likely the result of mixing with the encircling boundary currents, compensating for the escape of Labrador Sea Water from the region. Low-salinity water mixes into the gyre only near the surface.The water-column heat balance is in satisfactory agreement with meteorological assimilation models. Directly observed subsurface calorimetry may be the more reliable indication of the annual-mean air-sea heat flux. Acoustic instrumentation on the mooring gave a surprisingly good time series of the vector surface wind,The three-dimensional velocity field consists of convective plumes of width similar to 200 to 1000 m, vertical velocities of 2 to 8 cm s(-1), and Rossby numbers of order unity, embedded in stronger (similar to 20 cm s(-1)) lateral currents associated with mesoscale eddies. Horizontal currents with timescales of several days to several months are strongly barotropic. They are suddenly energized as convection reaches great depth in early March, and develop toward a barotropic state, as also seen in models of convectively driven geostrophic turbulence in a weakly stratified, high-latitude ocean. Currents decay through the summer and autumn, apart from some persistent isolated eddies. These coherent, isolated, cold anticyclones carry cores of pure convected water long after the end of winter.Boundary currents nearby interact with the Labrador Sea gyre and provide an additional source of eddies in the interior Labrador Sea. An earlier study of the pulsation of the boundary currents is supported by observations of sudden ejection of Roars from the central gyre into the boundary currents (and sudden ingestion of boundary current floats into the gyre interior), in what may be a mechanism for exchange between Labrador Sea Water and the World Ocean.


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