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Overturning Circulation

Water mass in deep ocean

Deep water formation and property
Antarctic Bottom Water
North Atlantic Deep Water
Abyssal circulation: Stommel-Arons model
Meridional overturning circulation
Reading materials:
Pickard and Emery: Chapter 7
Pond and Pickard: Chapter 10
Talley, Pickard, Emery and Swift: Chapter 14
Evolution of Physical Oceanography (p6-69)
Warren: Deep circulation of the world ocean (p6-41).
Worthington: Water mass of the world ocean(p42-69).
Pedlosky: Ocean Circulation Theory (p379-405)

Upper and Deep Ocean

1). The base of thermocline at a depth of roughly 1
km represents the lower boundary of the domain of
the vigorous ocean circulation driven by the wind
stress and large-scale distribution of heating and
cooling (~upper ocean)
2). Below this region lies a vast volume of water
(from 1~2 to 4~5 km, ~deep or abyssal ocean)
3). The deep ocean is cold everywhere
T < 4oC almost everywhere below 2km
T typically falls within 0-2oC at 4km
In contrast to widespread area of SST of the
order of 20oC

Why is the deep ocean filled

with cold water?

No major heat source or sink within deep

ocean (most water properties are set at sea
Waters of such low temperatures can only be
originated with surface waters at both polar
regions (estimated filling rate:10-20 Sv)
The presence at lower latitudes of such
waters implies water movement in deep
ocean (water properties are helpful for
identifying flow path).

Water masses and water types

Water mass can be defined as a body of
water with a common formation history
(through an identifiable process)
Water mass can be identified by plotting
temperature against salinity in a T-S diagram
Points in the property space (e.g., T-S
diagram) are called water types
A source water type is the water type at the
source of the water mass (define the water

How to track the water masses

from temperature-salinity diagram
Below the surface layer in permanent contact with the
atmosphere, temperature and salinity are quasiconservative properties, i.e., they can only be changed
by mixing and advection. All other properties of sea
water such as oxygen, nutrients etc. are affected by
biological and chemical processes and therefore nonconservative. Water masses can therefore be identified
by their temperature-salinity (T-S) combinations.

Each water mass is introduced in terms of

Its identifying characteristics
The ocean process that creates the specific characteristics

Once identified, additional information is used

to refine the water mass definition
e.g., density range

Example: Mediterranean Water (MW)

Salinity maximum layer in North Atlantic mid-depth (1000-2000m)
Saline outflow through Strait of Gibralter
Density range is a function of the source water and mixing with ambient North
Atlantic water

Subtropical Mode water (STMW)

Thickness (vertical homogeneity)
Originates in a thick surface winter mixed layer advected down along isopycnals
into the ocean interior

Examples of temperature-salinity (TS)-diagrams. The diagrams on the left

show the distribution of temperature (red) and salinity (cyan) with depth; the
diagrams on the right show the corresponding TS-diagrams.
Top: layering of a warm and saline water mass found at 0 - 300 m depth above a
cold and fresh water mass found at 300 - 600 m. The full lines show the situation
before mixing, the broken lines after mixing. The TS-diagram shows the two water
masses as TS points. Before mixing only the two points are seen in the TSdiagram. Mixing connects the two TS-points by a straight line.
Bottom: layering of three
water masses (intrusion
of a low salinity water
mass at 300 - 600 m
depth). Again, the full
lines show the situation
before mixing, the broken
lines after mixing. The
TS- diagram shows two
mixing lines; the erosion
of the intermediate
salinity minimum by
mixing is seen by the
departure of the broken
curve from the original
water mass point.

T-S Diagram (Plot)

First introduced by Helland-Hansen (1916) for individual oceanographic
Potential temperature is always used now to remove the adiabatic effect of
pressure on temperature
Each point on a -S diagram corresponds to a particular potential density
(often contoured on the diagram)
Water types are points representing source water on the diagram
As water advects away from its source and mixes with waters from other
sources, its identifying properties spread to a range
The overall envelope of the gradually mixing properties identifies the water
Fractional mixing rates of the source waters can be calculated for a given
A good assumption for conservative tracers is that mixing along straight lines

Example of a potential temperature ()-salinity diagram. (a) Schematic showing three water types
and their mixing products. (b) -S diagram from the central North Atlantic with water masses
labeled, illustrating how mixing connects the extrema. The contoured field on the diagrams is the
density t since this figure is reproduced from an earlier version of this text, although as indicated
in Chapter 3, it is advisable to use a potential density parameter.

Copyright 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights


Identify water masses from T-S Diagram

One of the oldest methods of classification is

the temperature-salinity diagram (or T-S
diagram). In any given area, a plot of
temperature versus salinity data, from near
the surface to the bottom, has distinctive and
reproducible characteristics (excluding the
top 100m, where seasonal temperature
changes dominate). All data from a given
region of the ocean can be expected to fall
within a certain envelope, with greater
variation near surface than at depth.
Inspection of the shape of the curve allows
one to distinguish between water masses.

Example of property-property plots

for a variety of different properties,
for the Japan/East Sea. Source:
From Talley et al. (2004).
Different colors correspond to data
derived from different stations



Copyright 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights


Taking into account of the whole set of

ocean properties and information about
water mass, it is useful to think of the
vertical structure in terms of four layers:
upper, intermediate, deep, and bottom
Upper: surface mixed layer, thermocline, halocline, pycnocline etc. (in
contact with the atmosphere (directly or through broad flow, e.g.,
through subduction process).
The other layers are all below pycnocline, identified by water masses
that indicate surface origins, with respect to location and formation

Potential temperature-salinityvolume (-S-V) diagrams for (a) the

whole water column and (b) for
waters colder than 4C. The shaded
region in (a) corresponds to the
figure in (b). Source: From
Worthington (1981).

Letter in (a):
(B)North Pacific and eastern South
(C)South Pacific and subtropical
North Pacific
(D)South Atlantic, South Pacific and
Indian Ocean
(E)South Atlantic and Indian Ocean
(F)Western North Atlantic, Red Sea
water in Indian Ocean
(G)South Pacific
(H)18oC water in western North

Copyright 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights


Deep Water Masses

have distinct characters

Volumetric T-S Diagram

Optimal Multiparameter
Analaysis (OMA)
All waters in the interior of the ocean are a
mixture of waters from well-defined sources at
the sea surface
The properties of the water sources are
Mixing in the ocean is mostly linear and
hence proportional
A formal method for determining the relative
proportions with a least square method

An example (Talley, p183-185)

Three conservative properties and two source waters

x11 x2 2 obs R
x1S1 x2 S2 Sobs RS
x1PV1 x2 PV2 PVobs RPV
x1 x2 1 RM






Example of optimum
multiparameter (OMP) water
mass analysis. Southwestern
Atlantic about 36S, showing
the fraction of three different
water masses. Antarctic
Intermediate Water, AAIW;
Upper Circumpolar Deep
Water, UCDW; and Weddell
Sea Deep Water, WSDW.
This figure can also be found
in the color insert. Source:
From Maamaatuaiahutapu et
al. (1992).



Copyright 2011 Elsevier Inc. All rights


Thermohaline Circulation

Water renewal in deep ocean is mainly achieved by currents

which are driven by density differences produced by
temperature (thermal) and salinity (haline) effects. The
associated circulation is therefore referred to as the
thermohaline circulation.

Since these movements are probably weak, it is often

impractical to use current meters to measure them
directly; they are usually deduced from the distribution of
water properties and the application of geostrophy.

Heating at low latitudes

Surface heating at the equator and
cooling at higher latitudes generate
meridional density difference that
drives an overturning cell
The overturning circulation is weak
because the heat is in the shallow
mixed layer
The salinity effect (e.g.,
evaporation at
subtropics and
precipitation near the
equator) enhances the
thermal cell but
counters the cooling in
the higher latitudes with
The upper thermohaline cell is of secondary importance

Cooling at high latitudes

Net heat loss from the oceans at high latitudes
Cooling of the surface water and increase in
Sink and replace deeper water
Density can also be increased when ice freezes
out, ejecting salt and thus increasing the weight
of the remaining water
Thermohaline circulation of the ocean is
associated sinking to mid-depth or even to the
ocean bottom.

Water mass formation

by deep convection
Deep convection occurs in regions of weak
density stratification (mostly in polar and
subpolar regions).
When the water in the mixed layer gets
denser than the water below, it sinks to
great depth, in some regions reaching to
the ocean floor.
The density increase can be achieved by
cooling or an increase in salinity (either
through evaporation or through brine
concentration during freezing) or both.

Sea Ice
Covers 6-8% of ocean
High reflectivity
(Albedo 30-40%)
(A barrier to solar
Always colder than
underline water
(heat flux from ocean to
the ice)

A layer of rapidly changing salinity at about 50-200 meters in high
latitudes of ice covered regions
The cooling temperature mostly freezes fresh water into ice
crystals, leaving salt trapped in brine pocket
The unfrozen water sink and mix with sea water below

Track of
Water and
Deep Water

Near Boundery Sinking

1). Dense water forms
over the continental shelf,
due to surface cooling
and salt rejection during
ice formation. The
resulting convection
yields cold, salty water at
the depth on the shelf
2). Horizontal density
gradient parallel to the
coast produces local
circulations for the
reservoir to empty
3). Mixing with an offshore water mass
increases the density

4). Dense, salty water on the shelf descends the slope under
a balance of Coriolis, gravity, and frictional forces. The
thermobaric effect may also contribute to the sinking

Sources of Antarctic Bottom Water

Sinking around Antarctica

The bottom water originates in several areas of the
Antarctic continental shelf, where water is made sufficiently
cold and saline that, in flowing down the continental slope
and mixing with the surrounding deep water, it is dense
enough to reach the floor of the ocean.
In order of decreasing amount and extent of influence on
the deep water property distributionsand presumably,
therefore, of rate of bottom water productionthese
regions are the Weddell Sea, the Ross Sea, and the Adlie
Coast; perhaps there is some production off Enderby Land,

Weddell Sea

The deep water is formed at the continental shelf,

which then flow into the Weddell Sea (-2oC,
S=34.4~34.8, t=27.96)
The shelf water mixes rapidly into the water above
to form the Weddell Sea Bottom Water (= 0.7o ~
0.8oC, t=27.9).
It is estimated that the net flow out of the Weddell
Sea is about 16 x 106 m3/s.
The Weddell Sea Bottom Water is very cold but
fresher than the overlaying water (S~34.52).

made in 1968 on
a station line
running eastward
from Antarctic
Peninsula into
Weddell Sea.



The evidence points to a flow

of shelf water down the slope,
entraining and being diluted
by the surrounding water on
its way. (The continental shelf
is unreachable throughout a
year because of ice cover).

Potential temperature

Observations made in 1968

on a station line running
eastward from Antarctic
Peninsula show a 200-m
thick layer of relatively cold,
fresh, low-silica bottom water
on the slope, extending onto
the floor of the Weddell Sea.

Dissolved silica

Similar sections near 40oW, 29oW, 10oW-20oW

show that the down slope flow gradually diminishes
to the eastward.

The distribution of
bottom potential
temperature in the
Weddell Sea
demonstrates that
the newly formed
bottom water leaves
the continental slope
mainly at the
northern tip of the
Antarctic Peninsula,
near 63o-65oS.
At the edge of the
continental shelf, the
water has = 1.2 to
the rate of sinking is
2-5x106 m3/s.

Other Sources of the Bottom Water

Ross Sea
More saline and denser water (S>34.72, t=28.1 ) are found near the bottom of
ocean in the southwestern Pacific, north of the Ross Sea near the mid-ocean
ridge (about 65oS), and close to Antarctica south of Australia.
This high salinity bottom water can be traced back to the deep depressions on
the shelf of Ross Sea. The cold saline shelf water has been observed to
descend the western continental slope in a manner similar to that of the down
slope flow in the Weddell Sea. The off shelf flux is roughly 0.6 x 106 m3/s
Adlie Coast
Deep depressions of much smaller area on the continental shelf of the Adlie
Coast of Antarctica. They are filled below their sill depths with water temperature
close to the freezing point, and of salinity 34.434.7, probably as a result of deep
convection associated with winter sea-ice formation.
Such water spilling over the sills forms a layer a few tens of meters thick on the
near-by continental slope, underlying the high salinity bottom water from the Ross
Sea. The flow down the continental slope appears intermittent.
This low-salinity bottom water mixes into the Ross Sea water rapidly enough that
it has not been detected far from the continental rise near its point of origin.
Enderby Land
Small amount of bottom water production.

Antarctic Bottom Water

Bottom water from these several sources mixes with the
warmer, more saline water above (the Antarctic
Circumpolar Water) to form the Antarctic Bottom Water
of the world ocean. (t =27.96, T=0.3oC, S=34.7-34.8 at
sub-Antarctic zone 40-50oS).
The Antarctic Bottom Water is the coldest, and the
densest, deep water in the open ocean, detectable into
northern latitudes by low temperatures close to the
The Antarctic Bottom Water flows into the South Atlantic
and eastward through the Indian and Pacific sectors of
the Southern Ocean. Below 4000m depth, all Atlantic
Ocean basins are mainly occupied by the Antarctic
Bottom Water.

Passages of AABW
The path of Antarctic Bottom Water is
strongly affected by the topography. The
water mass spreads northward from both east
and west of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge.
On the western side, it is detectable well into
the northern hemisphere past 50oN.
On the eastern side, the water flows along the
Walvis Ridge (20oS-30oS). Since the basin is
closed in the north below the 3000m level at
the Walvis Ridge, its northward progress
comes to a halt there. The flow follows the
depth contours in cyclonic motion, and the
bottom water leaves the basin on the eastern
side toward s the Indian Ocean.
Antarctic Bottom Water enters the eastern
basins north of the Walvis Ridge near the
equator by passing the Romanche Fracture
Zone. As a result, potential temperature
increases slowly both northward and
southward from the equator in the eastern

The effect
of bottom