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The asymmetry of Western Boundary Currents in the upper Atlantic Ocean
Onken, R. (1994). The asymmetry of Western Boundary Currents in the upper Atlantic Ocean. J. Phys. Oceanogr. 24(5): 928-948
In: Journal of Physical Oceanography. American Meteorological Society: Boston, etc.,. ISSN 0022-3670, more
Peer reviewed article  

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  • Onken, R.

    Observations of upper-ocean western boundary current (WBC) transports reveal asymmetries between the Northern and the Southern Hemispheres of the Atlantic Ocean. To find out what mechanism might cause these asymmetries the linearized steady-state vorticity equation is applied to the interior of a layer of constant thickness representing the upper Atlantic Ocean. WBC transports are then required to balance the interior volume flux deficit. The ocean is forced by climatological wind stress at the surface; thermohaline forcing is introduced by vertical motion at the lower boundary. A series of model runs using selected combinations of different basin geometries, wind stress fields, and thermohaline forcing patterns yields the following results: asymmetries of WBC transports cannot be explained by the topography shape of coastlines. The wind stress causes 12 Sv (Sv ≡ 1 × 106 m3 s −1) cross-equatorial transport to the north but it cannot account for the other WBC asymmetries. These can be explained by superimposing a thermohaline flow component to the wind-driven circulation. The best agreement with observations could be obtained from a model run driven by a sinking rate of 20 Sv in the northern North Atlantic and 4 Sv in the Weddell Sea compensated by 15 Sv return flow from other oceans via the Agulhas Current or Drake Passage and uniform upwelling of 9 Sv in the Atlantic. In tropical and subtropical latitudes this run reproduces all observed asymmetries, but in subpolar latitudes the model fails.Further conclusions can be drawn from the model results. (i) Up to 20 Sv northward transport of Antarctic Intermediate Water is needed at about 10°S to explain the difference of modeled transports and observations. For the same reasons an Antilles Current of up to 16 Sv is required. (ii) The major part of the northward heat transport in the North Atlantic has to occur via the tropical countercurrents and the North Equatorial Current. Only less than 7 Sv take the shortest way to the Caribbean via the Guyana Current. (iii) Fifty-six percent of the Florida Straits transport is wind driven.

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