National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2006

Generation and initial evolution of a Mode Water θ–S anomaly

Johnson, G.C.

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 36(4), 739–751, doi: 10.1175/JPO2895.1 (2006)

Generation and evolution of an isopycnal potential temperature-salinity (θ–S), or spiciness, anomaly is studied around 20°-23°S, 110°W in the austral winter of 2004. Two profiling CTD floats deployed in the region in January 2004 provide the observations. The anomaly (defined as relative to water properties of the preceding summer) is very large (initially about 0.35 in S and about 0.9°C in ). It is associated with the winter ventilation of a thick, low-potential-vorticity layer known as South Pacific Eastern Subtropical Mode Water. Regional lateral and S distributions at the surface predispose the ocean to formation of this water mass and allow significant anomalies to be generated there with relative ease. The water mass is potentially important for climate in that, after northwestward advection in the South Equatorial Current, it contributes to the Equatorial Undercurrent and eventually resurfaces in the cold tongue of the eastern equatorial Pacific Ocean. The anomaly studied is strong enough to predispose a portion of the water column to salt fingering, increasing vertical mixing. Although lateral processes are no doubt important in evolution of the anomaly, the vertical mixing appears to be sufficiently vigorous to reduce it significantly within 6 months after its formation by spreading it to denser horizons through diapycnal fluxes. By that time the anomaly is most likely sufficiently diffuse so that subsequent evolution from diapycnal fluxes is significantly reduced as it makes its way toward the equator.

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