Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

Tracing the flow of North Atlantic Deep Water using chlorofluorocarbons

Authors

  • William M. Smethie Jr.,

  • Rana A. Fine,

  • Alfred Putzka,

  • E. Peter Jones


Abstract

Chlorofluorocarbon (CFC) and hydrographic data collected in the North Atlantic in the late 1980s and early 1990s are used to confirm and add to earlier work on the large-scale circulation pathways and timescales for the spreading of North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) components and how these components relate to the hydrographic structure. Throughout the western North Atlantic, high CFC concentrations are coincident with newly formed NADW components of Upper Labrador Sea Water (ULSW), Classical Labrador Sea Water (CLSW), and Overflow Waters (OW). ULSW is marked by a CFC maximum throughout the western subtropical and tropical Atlantic, and CLSW is marked by a CFC maximum north of 38°N in data collected in 1990–1992. Iceland-Scotland Overflow Water (ISOW) splits into two branches in the eastern basin, with one branch entering the western basin where it mixes with Denmark Strait Overflow Water (DSOW) and the densest branch flows southward along the bottom in the eastern basin. DSOW contributes the largest portion of the CFC signal in OW. It is estimated that these NADW components are at 60–75% equilibrium with the CFC concentration in the atmosphere at the time of formation. The large-scale data set confirms that NADW spreads southward by complex pathways involving advection in the Deep Western Boundary Current (DWBC), recirculation in deep gyres, and mixing. Maps of the CFC distribution show that properties within the gyres are relatively homogeneous, particularly for OW, and there is a profound change at the gyre boundaries. The density of the core of ULSW increases in the equatorward direction because of entrainment by overlying northward flowing Upper Circumpolar Water and at the equator, ULSW has the same density as CLSW in the subtropics but is warmer and saltier. The density of OW decreases between the subpolar region and the subtropics. This is caused by the least dense part of OW exiting the subpolar region in the DWBC, while the densest component recirculates in the subpolar basins. Some variability is observed in OW density in the subtropics and tropics because of variability in mixing with Antarctic Bottom Water and changes in the subtropics that are probably related to the transport of different vintages of DSOW. Ages derived from CFC ratios show that the NADW components of northern origin spread throughout the western North Atlantic within 25–30 years. This corresponds to a spreading rate of 1–2 cm s−1 and is comparable to the time a climate anomaly introduced into the subpolar North Atlantic will take to penetrate the entire western North Atlantic Ocean.

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