National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2012

Relative contributions of temperature and salinity to seasonal mixed layer density changes and horizontal density gradients

Johnson, G.C., S. Schmidtko, and J.M. Lyman

J. Geophys. Res., 117, C04015, doi: 10.1029/2011JC007651 (2012)

Temperature and salinity both contribute to ocean density, including its seasonal cycle and spatial patterns in the mixed layer. Temperature and salinity profiles from the Argo Program allow construction and analysis of a global, monthly, mixed layer climatology. Temperature changes dominate the seasonal cycle of mixed layer density in most regions, but salinity changes are dominant in the tropical warm pools, Arctic, and Antarctic. Under the Intertropical Convergence Zone, temperature and salinity work in concert to increase seasonal stratification, but the seasonal density changes there are weak because the temperature and salinity changes are small. In the eastern subtropics, seasonal salinity changes partly compensate those in temperature and reduce seasonal mixed layer density changes. Besides a hemispheric seasonal reversal, the times of maximum and minimum mixed layer density exhibit regional variations. For instance, the equatorial region is more closely aligned with Southern Hemisphere timing, and much of the North Indian Ocean has a minimum density in May and June. Outside of the tropics, the maximum mixed layer density occurs later in the winter toward the poles, and the minimum earlier in the summer. Finally, at the times of maximum mixed layer density, some of the ocean has horizontal temperature and salinity gradients that work against each other to reduce the horizontal density gradient. However, on the equatorial sides of the subtropical salinity maxima, temperature and salinity gradients reinforce each other, increasing the density gradients there. Density gradients are generally stronger where either salinity or temperature gradients are dominant influences.

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