Changing Spatial Patterns of Deep Convection in the Subpolar North Atlantic

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  • Deep convection and associated deep water formation are key processes for climate variability, since they impact the oceanic uptake of heat and trace gases and alter the structure and strength of the global overturning circulation. For long, deep convection in the subpolar North Atlantic was thought to be confined to the central Labrador Sea in the western subpolar gyre (SPG). However, there is increasing observational evidence that deep convection also has occurred in the eastern SPG south of Cape Farewell and in the Irminger Sea, in particular, in 2015–2018. Here we assess this recent event in the context of the temporal evolution of spatial deep convection patterns in the SPG since the midtwentieth century, using realistic eddy-rich ocean model simulations. These reveal a large interannual variability with changing contributions of the eastern SPG to the total deep convection volume. Notably, in the late 1980s to early 1990s, the period with highest deep convection intensity in the Labrador Sea related to a persistent positive phase of the North Atlantic Oscillation, the relative contribution of the
    eastern SPG was small. In contrast, in 2015–2018, deep convection occurred with an unprecedented large relative contribution of the eastern SPG. This is partly linked to a smaller north-westward extent of deep convection in the Labrador Sea compared to previous periods of intensified deep convection, and may be a first fingerprint of freshening trends in the Labrador Sea potentially associated with enhanced Greenland melting and the oceanic advection of the 2012–2016 eastern North Atlantic fresh anomaly.

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    Article (Published)
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    © 2021. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.
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    • Rühs, S; Oliver, ECJ; Biastoch, A; Böning, CW; Dowd, M; Getzlaff, K; Martin, T; Myers, PG. (2021). Changing Spatial Patterns of Deep Convection in the Subpolar North Atlantic. Journal of Geophysical Research - Oceans.