Scientia Marina, Vol 77, No 2 (2013)

Levantine Intermediate Water characteristics: an astounding general misunderstanding!

Claude Millot
Aix-Marseille Univ., Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography (MIO), and CNRS/INSU, France


Levantine Intermediate Water (LIW) is a warm salty water formed in one out of four main zones of dense water formation in the Mediterranean Sea. LIW spreads as a density current and first appears on a ϴ-S diagram as a sharp peak that then smoothens out, often leading to the so-called “scorpion-tail” image with a ϴ (S) maximum above (below) the expected core. Both maxima have always been considered, somewhat fuzzily (even by us), as LIW characteristics without having ever been analysed theoretically. We question neither the “scorpion-tail” image nor the “core-method” nor qualitative analyses of either LIW or other waters characterized by similar extrema. But data from the Strait of Gibraltar demonstrate that characterizing and/or delimiting LIW by these maxima gives LIW a much greater importance than it actually merits so all quantitative analyses of LIW musts be reconsidered. Calculations made as simple as possible to simulate a warm salty layer of intermediate water (IW) mixing with waters lying above and below suggest that these maxima i) can be understood only when all three waters are considered together, ii) can evolve in different ways, iii) generally tend to move from the core of the IW layer outwards, and hence iv) can neither characterize nor delimit the IW in any way. Actual simulations with more sophisticated parameterizations are obviously needed. In addition, we suggest that what has to date been called LIW in the western basin in fact represents all intermediate waters formed in all zones of dense water formation in the eastern basin, i.e. not only Levantine waters but also, in particular, Aegean/Cretan waters. To provide a logical counterpart to WIW (Western Intermediate Water), we therefore suggest that, from the Channel of Sicily downstream, LIW should be renamed Eastern Intermediate Water (EIW).


Mediterranean Sea; water mass; temperature; salinity; maximum; extremum

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