Demons in the North Atlantic: Variability of deep ocean ventilation

Type Article
Date 2021-05
Language English
Author(s) Macgilchrist G. A.ORCID1, Johnson H. L.ORCID2, Lique CamilleORCID3, Marshall D. P.ORCID4
Affiliation(s) 1 : Program in Atmospheric and Oceanic Science, Princeton University, PrincetonN.J, U.S.A
2 : Department of Earth Sciences, University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K
3 : Univ. Brest, CNRS, IRD, Ifremer, Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale (LOPS), IUEM Brest , France
4 : Department of Physics, University of Oxford, Oxford, U.K
Source Geophysical Research Letters (0094-8276) (American Geophysical Union (AGU)), 2021-05 , Vol. 48 , N. 9 , P. e2020GL092340 (9p.)
DOI 10.1029/2020GL092340
Keyword(s) dense water formation, Labrador Sea, Lagrangian, North Atlantic, ocean mixed layer, ocean ventilation

Translation of atmospheric forcing variability into the ocean interior via ocean ventilation is an important aspect of transient climate change. On a seasonal timescale in the subtropics, this translation is mediated by a so‐called “Demon” that prevents access to all except late‐winter mixed‐layer water. Here, we use an eddy‐permitting numerical circulation model to investigate a similar process operating on longer (interannual) timescales in the subpolar North Atlantic. We find that variations in atmospheric forcing are mediated in their translation to the ocean interior, with year‐to‐year changes in the late‐winter mixed layer depth being the critical factor. The signature of persistent strong atmospheric forcing driving deep mixed layers is preferentially ventilated to the interior when the forcing is ceased. Susceptibility to this effect depends on the location and density of subduction — with the rate at which newly ventilated water escapes its region of subduction being the crucial factor.

Plain Language Summary

Water that leaves the ocean's surface boundary layer — where water is in direct contact with the overlying atmosphere — to be transported into the subsurface, is said to be “ventilated” (the name arising from the abundance of oxygen in newly ventilated water). The ventilation process, which carries implications for the ocean storage of climate‐relevant substances such as carbon dioxide, occurs only at certain times and under certain conditions. In describing a mechanism for the selective nature of ventilation over the seasonal cycle, Henry Stommel imagined a Demon sitting at the base of the surface boundary layer, granting access only to parcels of water that meet certain characteristics (namely their speed of “escape”). Thus, “Stommel's Demon” was born. Here, we investigate this same process as it operates in more northerly regions and on longer timescales. In so doing we give birth to a new “interannual Demon”, and describe its characteristics.

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