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Discussion papers
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2019-97
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.
https://doi.org/10.5194/os-2019-97
© Author(s) 2019. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License.

Submitted as: research article 30 Aug 2019

Submitted as: research article | 30 Aug 2019

Review status
This discussion paper is a preprint. It is a manuscript under review for the journal Ocean Science (OS).

Tracking the spread of a passive tracer through Southern Ocean water masses

Jan D. Zika1, Jean-Baptiste Sallée2, Andrew Meijers3, Alberto Naveira-Garabato4, Andrew J. Watson5, Marie-Jose Messias5, and Brian King6 Jan D. Zika et al.
  • 1School of Mathematics and Statistics. University of New South Wales, Sydney, Australia
  • 2Sorbonne Université, CNRS, LOCEAN Laboratory, Paris, France
  • 3British Antarctic Survey, Cambridge, UK
  • 4University of Southampton, National Oceanography Centre, UK
  • 5University of Exeter, UK
  • 6National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

Abstract. A dynamically passive inert tracer was released in the interior South Pacific Ocean at latitudes of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current. Observational cross sections of the tracer were taken over four consecutive years as it drifted through Drake Passage and into the Atlantic Ocean. The tracer was released within a region of high salinity relative to surrounding waters at the same density. In the absence of irreversible mixing a tracer remains at constant salinity and temperature on an isopycnal surface. To investigate the process of irreversible mixing we analysed the tracer in potential density versus salinity-anomaly coordinates. Observations of high tracer concentration tended to be collocated with isopycnal salinity anomalies. With time an initially narrow peak in tracer concentration as a function of salinity at constant density, broadened with the tracer being found at ever fresher salinities, consistent with diffusion-like behaviour in that coordinate system. The second moment of the tracer as a function of salinity suggested an initial period of slow spreading for approximately 2 years in the Pacific, followed by more rapid spreading as the tracer entered Drake Passage and the Scotia Sea. Analysis of isopycnal salinity gradients based on the Argo programme suggests that part of this apparent change can be explained by changes in background salinity gradients while part of the change may be explained by geographical changes in background mixing.

Jan D. Zika et al.
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Jan D. Zika et al.
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Short summary
The ocean can regulate climate by distributing heat and carbon dioxide into its interior. This work has resulted from a major experiment aimed at understanding how that distribution occurs. In the experiment an artificial tracer was released into the ocean. After release the tracer was tracked as it was distorted by ocean currents. Using novel methods we reveal how the tracer's distortions follow the movement of the underlying water masses in the ocean.
The ocean can regulate climate by distributing heat and carbon dioxide into its interior. This...
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