Open-ocean deep convection explored in the Mediterranean


  • The THETIS Group


Open-ocean deep convection is a littleunderstood process occurring in winter in remote areas under hostile observation conditions, for example, in the Labrador and Greenland Seas and near the Antarctic continent. Deep convection is a crucial link in the “Great Ocean Conveyor Belt” [Broecker, 1991], transforming poleward flowing warm surface waters through atmosphere-oceaninteraction into cold equatorward flowing water masses. Understanding its physics, interannual variations, and role in the global thermohaline circulation is an important objective of climate change research.

In convection regions, drastic changes in water mass properties and distribution occur on scales of 10–100 km. These changes occur quickly and are difficult to observe with conventional oceanographic techniques. Apart from observing the development of the deep-mixed patch of homogeneous water itself, processes of interest are convective plumes on scales <1 km and vertical velocities of several cm s−1 [Schott et al., 1994] that quickly mix water masses vertically, and instability processes at the rim of the convection region that expedite horizontal exchanges of convected and background water masses [e.g., Gascard, 1978].