The surface circulation of the Balearic Sea


  • Paul E. La Violette,

  • Joaquín Tintoré,

  • Jordi Font


Until recently, the surface circulation of the Balearic Sea has been viewed as largely cyclonic with a fairly quiescent central dome. However, recent studies involving ship data, tracked drifters, current meter moorings, and satellite imagery indicate that this sea has strong mesoscale variability and a more complex general circulation. These studies, together with an examination of registered satellite imagery collected during the Western Mediterranean Circulation Experiment (WMCE), indicate that the surface circulation is strong year-round, and characterized by two permanent density fronts located on the continental shelf slope (the Catalan Front) and the Balearic Islands shelf slope (the Balearic Front). The Catalan Front is the more active of the two fronts. In the northern area, a plume of cold water is frequently observed moving southward along the continental slope region, shedding dipole eddies along the leading edge of the plume. In addition, the Catalan Front continuously spawns energetic filaments that appear to be associated with the plume of cool water. The likely mechanism of formation of these filaments is the deflection of the cold water by the regional submarine canyons.