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Lagrangian views of the pathways of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

TitleLagrangian views of the pathways of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2019
AuthorsBower A., Lozier S., Biastoch A., Drouin K., Foukal N., Furey H., Lankhorst M., Ruhs S., Zou S.
Volume124
Pagination5313-5335
Date Published2019/08
Type of ArticleReview
ISBN Number2169-9275
Accession NumberWOS:000490464200001
KeywordsAMOC; antarctic circumpolar current; atlantic ocean; circulation; denmark; drifters; floats; labrador sea-water; Lagrangian methods; mid-depth circulation; models; near-surface; nordic seas; northern north-atlantic; numerical; oceanography; strait; strait overflow; subtropical mode water; water; western boundary current
Abstract

The Lagrangian method-where current location and intensity are determined by tracking the movement of flow along its path-is the oldest technique for measuring the ocean circulation. For centuries, mariners used compilations of ship drift data to map out the location and intensity of surface currents along major shipping routes of the global ocean. In the mid-20th century, technological advances in electronic navigation allowed oceanographers to continuously track freely drifting surface buoys throughout the ice-free oceans and begin to construct basin-scale, and eventually global-scale, maps of the surface circulation. At about the same time, development of acoustic methods to track neutrally buoyant floats below the surface led to important new discoveries regarding the deep circulation. Since then, Lagrangian observing and modeling techniques have been used to explore the structure of the general circulation and its variability throughout the global ocean, but especially in the Atlantic Ocean. In this review, Lagrangian studies that focus on pathways of the upper and lower limbs of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), both observational and numerical, have been gathered together to illustrate aspects of the AMOC that are uniquely captured by this technique. These include the importance of horizontal recirculation gyres and interior (as opposed to boundary) pathways, the connectivity (or lack thereof) of the AMOC across latitudes, and the role of mesoscale eddies in some regions as the primary AMOC transport mechanism. There remain vast areas of the deep ocean where there are no direct observations of the pathways of the AMOC. Plain Language Summary Measuring ocean currents by following their paths-rather than by observing them at a fixed location-is the oldest method for exploring ocean currents. For centuries, mariners used compilations of ship drift data to map out the location and intensity of surface currents along major shipping routes of the global ocean. In the mid-20th century, technological advances in electronic navigation allowed oceanographers to track freely drifting surface buoys continuously throughout the ice-free oceans and begin to construct global maps of the surface currents. At about the same time, the development of methods using sound to track floats below the surface led to important new discoveries regarding the currents bar below the surface. Since then, these techniques have been used to explore the location and strength of currents, and how they change in time, throughout the world's oceans, but especially in the Atlantic Ocean. Computer simulations of the oceans are also used to calculate the pathways of virtual surface drifters and subsurface floats. In this review, studies that use these flow-following methods to measure the pathways of the north-south shallow and deep currents that make up the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (also sometimes referred to as the Great Ocean Conveyor) have been gathered together to illustrate aspects of the conveyor system that are uniquely captured by this technique. These include the importance of large recirculations, or "waiting areas," where water circulates around and around before moving onto the next segment of the conveyor. Also, these techniques for observing ocean currents illustrate how disconnected some parts of the conveyor are, and how swirling, translating pools of water similar to 100 km in diameter, and not continuous currents, help to move water along the conveyor's path. Vast areas of the deep ocean remain where there are no direct observations of the pathways of the conveyor.

DOI10.1029/2019jc015014
Student Publication: 
No