National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2005

Water mass transformation in the Greenland Sea during the 1990s

Karstensen, J., P. Schlosser, D.W.R. Wallace, J.L. Bullister, and J. Blindheim

J. Geophys. Res., 110(C7), C07022, doi: 10.1029/2004JC002510 (2005)

Time series of hydrographic and transient tracer measurements were used to study the variability of Greenland Sea water mass transformation between 1991 and 2000. Increases in tracer inventories indicate active renewal of Greenland Sea Intermediate Water (GSIW) at a rate of 0.1 to 0.2 Sv (1 Sv = 1 × 106 m3 s−1) (10-year average). A temperature maximum (Tmax) was established at the base of the upper layer (500 m) as a consequence of anomalously strong freshwater input into the near-surface layer at the beginning of the 1990s. Tmax rapidly descended to 1500 m by 1995 followed by a much slower rate of descent. GSIW became warmer and less saline compared to the 1980s. During the deepening phase of Tmax, atmospheric data revealed above-average wind stress curl and oceanic heat loss. In addition, high Arctic Ocean sea-ice export and lack of local sea-ice formation have been documented for that period. A combination of all these factors may have evoked the renewal of GSIW with anomalously freshwater from the upper layers. The Tmax layer established a stability maximum that inhibits vertical exchange between intermediate and deeper waters. Temperature and salinity of deep waters continued to increase at rates of 0.01°C yrs−1 and 0.001 yrs−1, respectively. However, since 1993, decrease in and homogenization of deep water transient tracer concentrations indicate that renewal occurred predominantly by addition of Arctic Ocean waters. In 2000 the water column (500 m to 3400 m) required an additional 60 W ms−2 (110 W ms−2) over the annual mean heat loss to restore its heat content to 1989 (1971) values.

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