Tracking the spread of a passive tracer through Southern Ocean water masses

A dynamically passive inert tracer was released in the interior South Pacific Ocean at latitudes of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Observational cross sections of the tracer were taken over 4 consecutive years as it drifted through Drake Passage and into the Atlantic Ocean. The tracer was released within a region of high salinity relative to surrounding waters at the same density. In the absence of irreversible mixing a tracer remains at constant salinity and temperature on an isopycnal surface. To investigate the process of irreversible mixing we analysed the tracer in potential density-versus-salinity-anomaly coordinates. Observations of high tracer concentration tended to be collocated withisopycnalsalinityanomalies.Withtime,aninitiallynarrow peak in tracer concentration as a function of salinity at constant density broadened with the tracer being found at ever fresher salinities, consistent with diffusion-like behaviourinthatcoordinatesystem.Thesecondmomentofthe tracer as a function of salinity suggested an initial period of slow spreading for approximately 2 years in the Pacific, followed by more rapid spreading as the tracer entered Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea. Analysis of isopycnal salinity gradientsbasedontheArgoprogrammesuggeststhatpartof this apparent change can be explained by changes in background salinity gradients while part may be explained by the evolution of the tracer patch from a slowly growing phase wherethetracerformsfilamentstoamorerapidphasewhere the tracer mixes at 240–550m2s−1


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Authors: Zika, Jan D., Sallée, Jean-Baptiste, Meijers, Andrew J.S. ORCIDORCID record for Andrew J.S. Meijers, Naveira-Garabato, Alberto C., Watson, Andrew J., Messias, Marie-Jose, King, Brian A. ORCIDORCID record for Brian A. King

On this site: Andrew Meijers
12 March, 2020
Ocean Science / 16
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