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Variability of dense water formation in the Ross Sea

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Assmann, K. M. and Timmermann, R. (2005): Variability of dense water formation in the Ross Sea , Ocean dynamics, 55 (2), pp. 68-87 . doi: 10.1007/s10236-004-0106-7
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The paper presents results from a model study of the interannual variability of High Salinity Shelf Water (HSSW) properties in the Ross Sea.Salinity, potential temperature and volume of HSSW formed in the western Ross Sea show oscillatory behaviour at periods of 5-6 and 9 years superimposed on long-term fluctuations.While the shorter oscillations are induced by wind variability, variability on the scale of decades appears to be related to air temperature fluctuations.At least part of the strong decrease of HSSW salinities deduced from observations for the period 1963-2000 is shown to be an aliasing artefact due to an undersampling of the periodic signal.While sea ice formation is responsible for the yearly salinity increase that triggers the formation of High Salinity Shelf Water, interannual variability of net freezing rates hardly affects changes in the properties of the resulting water mass.Instead, results from model experiments indicate that the interannual variability of dense water characteristics is predominantly controlled by variations in the shelf inflow through a sub-surface salinity and a deep temperature signal.The origin of the variability of inflow characteristics to the Ross Sea continental shelf can be traced into the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas.The temperature anomalies are induced at the continental shelf break in the western Bellingshausen Sea by fluctuations of the meridional transport of Circumpolar Deep Water with the eastern cell of the Ross Gyre.Upwelling in the centre of this gyre carries the signal into the surface layer where it causes anomalies of brine release near the sea ice edge in the Amundsen Sea, which results in a sub-surface salinity anomaly.With the westward flowing coastal current, both the sub-surface salinity and deep temperature signals are advected onto the Ross Sea continental shelf.Convection carries the signal of salinity variability into the deep ocean, where it interacts with Modified Circumpolar Deep Water upwelled onto the continental shelf as the second source water mass of HSSW.Sea ice formation on the Ross Sea continental shelf thus drives the vertical propagation of the signal rather than determining the signal itself.

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