National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2013

Ocean bottom pressure seasonal cycles and decadal trends from GRACE Release-05: Ocean circulation implications

Johnson, G.C., and D.P. Chambers

J. Geophys. Res., 118(9), 4228–4240, doi: 10.1002/jgrc.20307 (2013)

Ocean mass variations are important for diagnosing sea level budgets, the hydrological cycle, the global energy budget, and ocean circulation variability. Here seasonal cycles and decadal trends of ocean mass from January 2003 to December 2012, both global and regional, are analyzed using GRACE Release-05 data. The trend of global flux of mass into the ocean approaches 2 cm decade−1 in equivalent sea level rise. Regional trends are of similar magnitude, with the North Pacific, South Atlantic, and South Indian oceans generally gaining mass and other regions losing mass. These trends suggest a spin-down of the North Pacific western boundary current extension and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current in the South Atlantic and South Indian oceans. The global average seasonal cycle of ocean mass is about 1 cm in amplitude, with a maximum in early October and volume fluxes in and out of the ocean reaching 0.5 Sv (1 Sv = 1 × 106 m3 s−1) when integrated over the area analyzed here. Regional patterns of seasonal ocean mass change have typical amplitudes of 1–4 cm, and include maxima in the subtropics and minima in the subpolar regions in hemispheric winters. The subtropical mass gains and subpolar mass losses in the winter spin-up both subtropical and subpolar gyres, hence the western boundary current extensions. Seasonal variations in these currents are order 10 Sv, but since the associated depth-averaged current variations are only order 0.1 cm s−1, they would be difficult to detect using in situ oceanographic instruments.

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