Significance of Diapycnal Mixing Within the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation

Type Article
Date 2023-04
Language English
Author(s) Cimoli LauraORCID1, 2, 3, Mashayek AliORCID4, Johnson Helen L.ORCID5, Marshall David P.ORCID3, Naveira Garabato Alberto C.ORCID6, Whalen Caitlin B.ORCID7, Vic ClementORCID8, de Lavergne CasimirORCID9, Alford Matthew H.ORCID2, Mackinnon Jennifer A.ORCID2, Talley Lynne D.ORCID2
Affiliation(s) 1 : Department of Applied Mathematics and Theoretical Physics University of Cambridge Cambridge, UK
2 : Scripps Institution of Oceanography University of California San Diego CA La Jolla, USA
3 : Department of Physics University of Oxford Oxford, UK
4 : Department of Earth Sciences University of Cambridge Cambridge,UK
5 : Department of Earth Sciences University of Oxford Oxford, UK
6 : School of Ocean and Earth Science University of Southampton Southampton ,UK
7 : Applied Physics Laboratory University of Washington WA Seattle, USA
8 : Laboratoire d’Océanographie Physique et Spatiale University of Brest CNRS IRD Ifremer Plouzané ,France
9 : LOCEAN Laboratory Sorbonne Université‐CNRS‐IRD‐MNHN Paris ,France
Source Agu Advances (2576-604X) (American Geophysical Union (AGU)), 2023-04 , Vol. 4 , N. 2 , P. e2022AV000800 (15p.)
DOI 10.1029/2022AV000800
Keyword(s) diapycnal mixing, Atlantic Ocean, tracer ventilation

Diapycnal mixing shapes the distribution of climatically important tracers, such as heat and carbon, as these are carried by dense water masses in the ocean interior. Here, we analyze a suite of observation-based estimates of diapycnal mixing to assess its role within the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC). The rate of water mass transformation in the Atlantic Ocean's interior shows that there is a robust buoyancy increase in the North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW, neutral density γn ≃ 27.6–28.15), with a diapycnal circulation of 0.5–8 Sv between 48°N and 32°S in the Atlantic Ocean. Moreover, tracers within the southward-flowing NADW may undergo a substantial diapycnal transfer, equivalent to a vertical displacement of hundreds of meters in the vertical. This result, confirmed with a zonally averaged numerical model of the AMOC, indicates that mixing can alter where tracers upwell in the Southern Ocean, ultimately affecting their global pathways and ventilation timescales. These results point to the need for a realistic mixing representation in climate models in order to understand and credibly project the ongoing climate change.

Key Points

The cross-density mixing of water and tracers is quantified from observation-based estimates and numerical simulations in the Atlantic Ocean

A net 0.5–8 Sv of North Atlantic Deep Water upwells diapycnally in the Atlantic Ocean (48°N–32°S), comprised of larger regional up/downwelling fluxes

Tracer mixing in the deep Atlantic Ocean can significantly modify pathways and ventilation rates of tracers upwelling in the Southern Ocean

Plain Language Summary

The Atlantic Ocean meridional overturning circulation plays a key role in regulating the global heat and carbon budgets by inter-hemispheric transport of anthropogenic and natural tracers as well as water masses. While most of this transport occurs along nearly horizontal density surfaces in the ocean interior, vertical transport across density levels is key to bringing deep waters back to the surface. Such cross-density transport is facilitated mainly by the internal waves breaking into turbulence and near boundary processes. This work employs a host of observation-based estimates of turbulence in the Atlantic Ocean to (a) better quantify the contribution of cross-density mixing to the inter-hemispheric Atlantic circulation, and (b) discuss the potential implications for pathways and residence times of tracers carried from the North Atlantic to the Southern Ocean. This work calls for a more careful representation of turbulence-induced vertical mixing within the Atlantic Ocean in climate models to better understand and project the ongoing climate change.

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Peer Review History 7 161 KB Open access
Author Response to Peer Review Comments 12 667 KB Open access
First Revision of Manuscript 27 7 MB Open access
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How to cite 

Cimoli Laura, Mashayek Ali, Johnson Helen L., Marshall David P., Naveira Garabato Alberto C., Whalen Caitlin B., Vic Clement, de Lavergne Casimir, Alford Matthew H., Mackinnon Jennifer A., Talley Lynne D. (2023). Significance of Diapycnal Mixing Within the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation. Agu Advances, 4(2), e2022AV000800 (15p.). Publisher's official version : , Open Access version :