Temporal Variability in Surface Eddy Mixing
[24-May-2017] Busecke, J., Gordon, A., and Abernathey, R.
Presented at the Global Ocean Salinity and the Water Cycle Workshop
Lateral mixing by mesoscale eddies is widely recognized as a crucial mechanism for the global ocean circulation and the associated heat/salt/tracer transports. The Salinity in the Upper Ocean Processes Study (SPURS) confirmed the importance of eddy mixing for the surface salinity fields even in the center of the subtropical gyre of the North Atlantic. We focus on the global salinity maxima due to their role as indicators of global changes in the hydrological cycle as well as providing the source water masses for the shallow overturning circulation. A suite of observationally driven model experiments is used to investigate the contribution of near-surface lateral eddy mixing to the subtropical surface salinity maxima in the global ocean. Surface fields of salinity are treated as a passive tracer and stirred by surface velocities derived from altimetry, leading to irreversible water mass transformation. In the absence of surface forcing and vertical processes, the transformation rate can be directly related to the integrated diffusion across tracer contours, which is determined by the observed velocities. The destruction rates of the salinity maxima by lateral mixing can be compared to the production rates by surface forcing, which act to strengthen the maxima. The ratio of destruction by eddy mixing in the surface layer versus the surface forcing exhibits regional differences in the mean - from 10% in the South Pacific up to 25% in the South Indian. Furthermore, the regional basins show seasonal and interannual variability in eddy mixing. The dominant mechanism for this temporal variability varies regionally. Most notably, the North Pacific shows large sensitivity to the background salinity fields and a weak sensitivity to the velocity fields while the North Atlantic exhibits the opposite behavior. The different mechanism for temporal variability could have impacts on the manifestation of a changing hydrological cycle in the SSS field specifically in the North Pacific. We find evidence for large scale interannual changes of eddy diffusivity in several ocean basins that could be related to large scale climate forcing.