National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1997

The distribution of tritium and CFCs in the Weddell Sea during the mid-1980s

Mensch, M., R. Bayer, J.L. Bullister, P. Schlosser, and R.F. Weiss

Prog. Oceanogr., 38(4), 377–415, doi: 10.1016/S0079-6611(97)00007-4 (1997)

Transient tracer data (tritium, CFC11 and CFC12) from the southern, central and northwestern Weddell Sea collected during Polarstern cruises ANT III-3, ANT V-2/3/4 and during Andenes cruise NARE 85 are presented and discussed in the context of hydrographic observations. A kinematic, time-dependent, multi-box model is used to estimate mean residence times and formation rates of several water masses observed in the Weddell Sea. Ice Shelf Water is marked by higher tritium and lower CFC concentrations compared to surface waters. The tracer signature of Ice Shelf Water can only be explained by assuming that its source water mass, Western Shelf Water, has characteristics different from those of surface waters. Using the transient nature of tritium and the CFCs, the mean residence time of Western Shelf Water on the shelf is estimated to be approximately 5 years. Ice Shelf Water is renewed on a time scale of about 14 years from Western Shelf Water by interaction of this water mass with glacial ice underneath the Filchner-Ronne Ice shelf. The Ice Shelf Water signature can be traced across the sill of the Filchner Depression and down the continental slope of the southern Weddell Sea. On the continental slope, new Weddell Sea Bottom Water is formed by entrainment of Weddell Deep Water and Weddell Sea Deep Water into the Ice Shelf Water plume. In the northwestern Weddell Sea, new Weddell Sea Bottom Water is observed in two narrow, deep boundary currents flowing along the base of the continental slope. Classically defined Weddell Sea Bottom Water (θ ≤ -0.7°C) and Weddell Sea Deep Water (-0.7°C ≤ θ ≤ 0°C) are ventilated from the deeper of these boundary currents by lateral spreading and mixing. Model-based estimates yield a total formation rate of 3.5Sv for new Weddell Sea Bottom Water (θ = -1.0°C) and a formation rate of at least 11Sv for Antarctic Bottom Water (θ = -0.5°C).

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