Scientia Marina, Vol 76, No S1 (2012)

Inter-decadal changes in stratification and double diffusion in a transatlantic section along 7.5°N

Miguel Ángel San Antolín Plaza
Departament d’Oceanografia Física, Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC - Facultad de Ciencias del Mar, Universidad de Las Palmas , Spain

Josep L. Pelegrí
Departament d’Oceanografia Física, Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC - LINCGlobal, CSIC-PUC, Facultad de Ciencias Biológicas, Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile , Spain

Francisco José Machín
Facultad de Ciencias del Mar, Universidad de Las Palmas , Spain

Verónica Benítez Barrios
Departament d’Oceanografia Física, Institut de Ciències del Mar, CSIC , Spain


We use three transatlantic cruises (1957, 1993 and 2010) along 7.5°N to analyse inter-decadal variations of the neutral buoyancy frequency (with neutral density replacing potential density) and Turner angle. We also use Argo data from the 2003-2011 period to show that, within central and intermediate waters, the changes between the three sections are slightly greater than the seasonal and inter-annual variations, so they may be interpreted as actual inter-decadal variations. The results point to a generalized sinking of isoneutrals between 1957 and 2010, with maximum zonally-averaged values of about 100 m in the central and upper deep layers. They also reveal the occurrence of substantial changes in the intermediate and neighbouring water strata, with differential vertical sinking of isoneutrals and the transformation of their thermohaline characteristics. The neutral buoyancy frequency increased in the lower central and upper intermediate layers and decreased in the lower intermediate and upper deep layers. The distributions of Turner angle highlight a predominance of salt-fingering in the North Atlantic, except for a gravitationally doubly-stable layer located immediately below the intermediate water core; this stable layer thinned substantially between 1957 and 2010 because of the sinking of the lower intermediate isoneutrals acting together with actual water transformations from Antarctic Intermediate Waters into North Atlantic Deep Waters. We conclude that a significant portion of the water column underwent both increased vertical stratification and enhanced salt-fingering, two mechanisms with opposite effects on the effective vertical diffusion.


transatlantic section; stratification; neutral buoyancy frequency; Turner angle; inter-decadal changes; vertical diffusion

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