We investigate the variability of the North Atlantic subarctic gyre in recent decades from time series of station temperature and salinity. Decadal variability stronger at the surface is identified, which exhibits vertical coherence over a layer deeper than the late winter mixed layer. In the northwestern Atlantic, it corresponds to the layer with a component of water from the Arctic Ocean or from the Canadian Arctic. The spatial coherence of the signal is investigated. An empirical orthogonal function decomposition of lagged time series indicates that a single pattern explains 70% of the variance in upper ocean salt content, corresponding to a propagating signal from the west to the northeast in the subarctic gyre. The most likely interpretation is that the salinity signal originates in the slope currents of the Labrador Sea and is diffused/advected eastward of the Grand Banks over the near western Atlantic. In the northwestern Atlantic, temperature fluctuations are strongly correlated to salinity fluctuations and are aligned along the average T-S characteristics. This signal suggests large variations in the outflow of fresh, cold water in the slope current, and is strongly correlated with ice cover. A basin scale atmospheric circulation of weakened westerlies at 55 degrees N, weaker northwesterlies west of Greenland and weaker southerlies over the central and eastern North Atlantic is associated with the high salinity and warm water phase of the first principal component. This circulation pattern leads fluctuations in the northeast Atlantic and lags those in the northwestern part of the basin. The wind indices also suggest that the fluctuations of the fresh water outflow occur during intervals of anomalously northerly winds, either east of Greenland (1965, 1968-1969) or off the Canadian Archipelago (1983-1984).
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