Unsupervised classification identifies coherent thermohaline structures in the Weddell Gyre region

The Weddell Gyre is a major feature of the Southern Ocean and an important component of the planetary climate system; it regulates air–sea exchanges, controls the formation of deep and bottom waters, and hosts upwelling of relatively warm subsurface waters. It is characterised by low sea surface temperatures, ubiquitous sea ice formation, and widespread salt stratification that stabilises the water column. Observing the Weddell Gyre is challenging, as it is extremely remote and largely covered with sea ice. At present, it is one of the most poorly sampled regions of the global ocean, highlighting the need to extract as much value as possible from existing observations. Here, we apply a profile classification model (PCM), which is an unsupervised classification technique, to a Weddell Gyre profile dataset to identify coherent regimes in temperature and salinity. We find that, despite not being given any positional information, the PCM identifies four spatially coherent thermohaline domains that can be described as follows: (1) a circumpolar class, (2) a transition region between the circumpolar waters and the Weddell Gyre, (3) a gyre edge class with northern and southern branches, and (4) a gyre core class. PCM highlights, in an objective and interpretable way, both expected and underappreciated structures in the Weddell Gyre dataset. For instance, PCM identifies the inflow of Circumpolar Deep Water (CDW) across the eastern boundary, the presence of the Weddell–Scotia Confluence waters, and structured spatial variability in mixing between Winter Water and CDW. PCM offers a useful complement to existing expertise-driven approaches for characterising the physical configuration and variability of oceanographic regions, helping to identify coherent thermohaline structures and the boundaries between them.


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Authors: Jones, Dani C. ORCIDORCID record for Dani C. Jones, Sonnewald, Maike, Zhou, Shenjie ORCIDORCID record for Shenjie Zhou, Hausmann, Ute, Meijers, Andrew J.S. ORCIDORCID record for Andrew J.S. Meijers, Rosso, Isabella, Boehme, Lars, Meredith, Michael P. ORCIDORCID record for Michael P. Meredith, Naveira Garabato, Alberto C.

On this site: Andrew Meijers, Dani Jones, Michael Meredith, Shenjie Zhou, Ute Hausmann
22 June, 2023
Ocean Science / 19
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