Antarctic Thermocline Dynamics along a Narrow Shelf with Easterly Winds

Hartmut.Hellmer [ at ]


Determining the role of Southern Ocean warm intermediate water for driving melting of the Antarctic ice sheet is a major challenge in assessing future sea level rise. Analysis of 2859 CTD profiles obtained between 1977 and 2016 by ships and instrumented seals at the Weddell Sea continental slope reveals a seasonal rise of the Antarctic Slope Front thermocline by more than 100 m during the summer. The signal at Kapp Norvegia (17°W) corresponds with a seasonal warming downstream at the Filchner Trough (40°W), indicating that a coherent evolution of the slope front along the shelf break regulates the onshore flow of warm deep water. Climatological cross sections of the slope front hydrography show that downwelling of Antarctic Surface Water forms a secondary front above the warm deep water interface during summer. Enhanced baroclinic growth rates at this front suggest that the wind-driven suppression of the thermocline is partially compensated by a shallower eddy overturning cell when surface water is present. A simple model of the Weddell Gyre boundary current reveals that wintertime densification of surface waters is crucial for maintaining the deep thermocline along the eastern Weddell Sea coast. The sensitivity of the warm inflow to the cross-frontal density gradient implies a positive feedback with ice shelf melting that may lead to an abrupt transition into a high melting state once warm water rises over the shelf break depth. Despite its regional focus, this study highlights the role of upper ocean buoyancy fluxes for controlling the thermocline depth along seasonally ice-covered narrow shelf regions with cyclonic along-slope winds.

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DOI 10.1175/JPO-D-18-0064.1

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Hattermann, T. (2018): Antarctic Thermocline Dynamics along a Narrow Shelf with Easterly Winds , Journal of Physical Oceanography, 48 (10), pp. 2419-2443 . doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-18-0064.1

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