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spEciAl issuE oN sAliNity

EVolutioN of

North AtlANtic WAtEr MAssEs

iNfErrEd froM

lAbrAdor sEA sAliNity sEriEs


e Labrador Sea is the coldest and freshest basin of the North Atlantic. Winter cooling in this sea produces Labrador Sea Water. is intermediate water plays an important role in the exchange of heat, freshwater, and other substances between the atmosphere and the abyssal ocean, a ecting the water masses, circulation, and, ultimately, climate of the subpolar North Atlantic basins. e subpolar gyre of the North Atlantic has exhibited large changes in temperature, salinity, and volume over the past six decades, largely in response to changing winter conditions over the Labrador Sea. e signature of these changes can be seen in the lower limb of the Meridional Overturning Circulation down into the North Atlantic tropics.

ocean is approximately conserved, its local or regional signatures are a ected by planetary freshwater and salt uxes. Because the net poleward atmospheric moisture ux is largely compensated by the net oceanic freshwater transport,

any sustained change in regional salin- ity would likely reveal an important tendency in the large-scale redistribution of freshwater and sea salt that would provide insight for understanding and predicting possible climate change.

e planetary cycle of freshwater includes evaporation, precipitation, continental runo , atmospheric mois- ture ux, and, nally, the ocean’s own processes of freshwater transport and exchange, ice formation, and melting. ese processes determine changes in the storage of freshwater in the global ocean, the main planetary reservoir of this most vital substance. On the ip side, these same processes, along with advection and mixing of salt, control salinity, which is a measure of (or, practi- cally, a proxy for) the concentration of the salts dissolved in seawater.

by igor yAshAyAEV

ANd AllyN clArkE


e subpolar sector of the North Atlantic Ocean is the region where the warm, saline upper-layer waters from the low (tropical and subtropical) latitudes meet the cold, less-saline out ows from the high (polar) latitudes and interact to mix and exchange their properties. It is also the region in which the major intermedi- ate and deep water masses of the North Atlantic are created, modi ed, and

joined together to form the lower limb of the “ocean conveyor belt.”

e global ocean conveyor, by trans- forming poleward ows of warm saline upper waters to deep return ows of cold, less-saline waters, makes a signi - cant contribution to the global distribu- tion of heat, freshwater, and a variety

of other substances carried by seawater (e.g., salts, nutrients, gases, pollutants). Although the salt content of the world

30 Oceanography Vol. 21, No.1

is article has been published in Oceanography, Volume 21, Number 1, a quarterly journal of e oceanography society. copyright 2008 by e oceanography society. All rights reserved. permission is granted to copy this article for use in teaching and research. republication, systemmatic reproduction, or collective redistirbution of any portion of this article by photocopy machine, reposting, or other means is permitted only with the approval of e oceanography society. send all correspondence to: or e oceanography society, po box 1931, rockville, Md 20849-1931, usA.

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