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Shelfbreak frontal structure and processes north of Cape Hatteras in winter

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The circulation north of Cape Hatteras is complicated by the proximity of the shelfbreak front, the Gulf Stream, and convergent shelf flow from the Middle and South Atlantic Bights. A three-week cruise in this region in January/February, 2005 was undertaken in order to study the structure of the shelfbreak front as it terminates near Cape Hatteras and to quantify the freshwater transport from the Middle Atlantic Bight shelf into the Gulf Stream. Two strongly contrasting conditions were identified. Early in the cruise, the Gulf Stream directly abutted the shelfbreak at Cape Hatteras and drove a northward flow over the continental shelf as far north as 35°45′N. All of the Middle Atlantic Bight shelf water terminated by 35°30′N. Ten days later, the Gulf Stream had moved away from the shelfbreak south of Cape Hatteras and strong winds from the north were present. During this time, the shelfbreak frontal jet was strong (maximum southward velocity of approximately 0.5 m s–1 with a Rossby number of 2) and abruptly turned eastward and offshore between 35°35′N and 35°45′N. Freshwater transport eastward from the shelfbreak jet was 7.4 mSv and southward over the shelf was 19.9 mSv, giving a total freshwater transport of 27.3 mSv. This likely represents an upper bound due to the strong wind forcing. Implications of these results for the freshwater budget of the Middle Atlantic Bight shelf, stability properties of the shelfbreak front in this region, and the formation of “Ford water” in the Gulf Stream are discussed.

Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: November 1, 2008

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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