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Free Content The hydrography and circulation of the upper 1200 meters in the tropical North Atlantic during 1982–91

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We assemble a collection of 7591 conductivity-temperature-depth stations in the tropical Atlantic between 5S and 20N for the period 1982–1991 using data from the Soviet SECTIONS program enhanced by contributions primarily from the WESTRAX and FOCAL/SEQUAL programs. Most of the stations are west of 30W, forming a series of 21 surveys. In addition there were five multi-ship basinwide surveys, each taking 1.5–3 months to complete. The quality of the SECTIONS data is discussed and comparisons between the data sets are shown. Within the pycnocline, southern water is distinguished by salinity that is 0.3 psu lower than its northern counterpart at the same density. This difference allows us to distinguish the origin of pycnocline water. Based on this information together with geostrophic analysis we confirm that much of the water transported across the equator in the North Brazil Current retroflects eastward south of 8N. In summer and fall the water of the North Brazil Current merges with the water of the North Equatorial Current to form the North Equatorial Countercurrent, whose axis shifts southward with depth. East of 35W part of the mass transport in the Countercurrent is lost to the equatorial zone, while the rest continues eastward. During winter and spring eastward currents are found in two latitude bands, a surface current between 5–10N and a weaker current south of 5N confined to the thermocline. This latter North Equatorial Undercurrent has no surface expression in winter. During the summer and fall the northern boundary of Southern Hemisphere water at pycnocline depths is given by the North Equatorial Countercurrent. During the rest of the year the northern boundary of Southern Hemisphere water only penetrates to the edge of the weaker North Equatorial Undercurrent south of 5N.

The availability of ten years of data allows us to examine aspects of year-to-year variability. Among these results the data set reveals strong meandering of the North Equatorial Countercurrent between 42W and 35W during the summer of 1987. The meandering also appears in contemporaneous Geosat altimetry. Another unusual feature occurred in the summer 1986 when there was a strong thermocline current transporting water northward at the rate of 26 Sv. Water mass analysis shows that this current was the result of a pressure gradient set up by an intrusion of warm low-salinity water from the Southern Hemisphere. The fact that this high transport occurred in the interior ocean suggests that interior flows must be monitored during any attempt to observe meridional transports of mass or heat.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: July 1, 1997

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, 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. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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