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Pathways of shelf water export from the Hatteras shelf and slope

Authors

  • James H. Churchill,

    Corresponding author
    1. Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA
      Corresponding author: J. H. Churchill, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mail Stop 21, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA. (jchurchill@whoi.edu)
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  • Glen G. Gawarkiewicz

    1. Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts, USA
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Corresponding author: J. H. Churchill, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Mail Stop 21, Woods Hole, MA 02543, USA. (jchurchill@whoi.edu)

Abstract

[1] It has long been recognized that a massive flow of Middle Atlantic Bight (MAB) shelf water is exported to the deep ocean in the region near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina. We examine the details of this export using data from an extensive array of 26 moorings, deployed over the shelf and slope between Cape Hatteras and the Chesapeake Bay mouth (from 35° 27′ to 36° 40′ N) as part of the U.S. Department of Energy's Ocean Margins Program. Our analysis indicates that the flow of the MAB shelf-edge frontal jet, which typically extends over the MAB slope, falls victim to export over the length of the mooring array, essentially vanishing by the southern extreme of the array. By contrast, the flow of MAB shelf water entering the study region over the inner and middle shelf (to roughly the 40-m isobath) tends to experience very little loss over the extent of the OMP array. Based on our findings and those of previous studies, we hypothesize that this inner and middle shelf flow is diverted seaward upon encountering the Hatteras Front, which separates MAB and South Atlantic Bight shelf waters. Some fraction of this flow appears to return to the OMP array, moving northeastward over the upper slope en route to the deep ocean. Our analysis also suggests that the export of MAB shelf water is enhanced as the Gulf Stream approaches the shelf-edge near Diamond Shoals, a process we deem to be a high priority for future study.

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