The Atlantic Subtropical Cells inferred from observations

The Atlantic Subtropical Cells (STCs) are shallow wind‐driven overturning circulations connecting the tropical upwelling areas to the subtropical subduction regions. In both hemispheres, they are characterized by equatorward transport at thermocline level, upwelling at the equator, and poleward Ekman transport in the surface layer. This study uses recent data from Argo floats complemented by ship sections at the western boundary as well as reanalysis products to estimate the meridional water mass transports and to investigate the vertical and horizontal structure of the STCs from an observational perspective. The seasonally varying depth of meridional velocity reversal is used as the interface between the surface poleward flow and the thermocline equatorward flow. The latter is bounded by the 26.0 kg m−3 isopycnal at depth. We find that the thermocline layer convergence is dominated by the southern hemisphere water mass transport (9.0 ± 1.1 Sv from the southern hemisphere compared to 2.9 ± 1.3 Sv from the northern hemisphere) and that this transport is mostly confined to the western boundary. Compared to the asymmetric convergence at thermocline level, the wind‐driven Ekman divergence in the surface layer is more symmetric, being 20.4 ± 3.1 Sv between 10°N and 10°S. The net poleward transports (Ekman minus geostrophy) in the surface layer concur with values derived from reanalysis data (5.5 ± 0.8 Sv at 10°S and 6.4 ± 1.4 Sv at 10°N). A diapycnal transport of about 3 Sv across the 26.0 kg m−3 isopycnal is required in order to maintain the mass balance of the STC circulation.


Use and reproduction:

CC BY 4.0

Please note that individual components of the publication may be subject to other licensing or copyright conditions.


Citation style:
Could not load citation form.