National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 1985

Atmospheric chlorofluoromethanes in the deep equatorial Atlantic

Weiss, R.F., J.L. Bullister, R.H. Gammon, and M.J. Warner

Nature, 314(6012), 608–610, doi: 10.1038/314608a0 (1985)

Waters that leave the surface of the ocean and enter the subsurface circulation contain concentrations of CCl3F (fluorocarbon-11) and CCl2F2 (fluorocarbon-12), which reflects the temporal increases of these industrially produced compounds in the atmosphere. These chlorofluoromethanes (CFMs) are extremely stable in the troposphere and in natural waters, they have no known natural sources, and their histories of release to the atmosphere are fairly well known. The atmospheric distributions of CCl3F and CCl2F2 are not strongly dependent on latitude, and their surface water concentrations can be expected to come into relatively rapid solubility equilibrium with the atmosphere. Recent advances in analytical techniques have made possible the routine use of these CFMs as oceanic tracers on a decadal timescale. The results we report here are from the first detailed surveys of CCl3F and CCl2F2 distributions in the northern and tropical Atlantic Ocean. They show that CFM-bearing waters originating in the region of the Labrador Sea have reached the Equator in a well-defined western-boundary undercurrent located at a depth of about 1.6 km, in the Upper North Atlantic Deep Water. Using a simple dilution model, we calculate that this water has taken about 23 yr to reach the equatorial region, and has been diluted about five-fold by CFM-free waters.

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