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Abyssal currents generated by diffusion and geothermal heating over rises

Thompson, Luanne (School of Oceanography WB-10, University of Washington, Seattle, WA 98195, USA ); Johnson, Gregory C. (NOAA/Pacific Marine Environmental Laboratory, 7600 Sand Point Way N.E. Bldg 3, Seattle, WA 98115-0070, USA );
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    Abstract A continuously stratified (in both salinity and temperature) diffusive time-dependent one-dimensional f -plane model over a sloping bottom is constructed. The model is used to investigate the role of mixing of density near the bottom on large-scale abyssal flow near mid-ocean rises. For realistic abyssal values, both geothermal heating from the bottom and diffusion can be important to the dynamics of flow over mid-ocean rises. When diffusion dominates, buoyancy is transported toward the bottom and the θ - S (potential temperature-salinity) relation remains nearly linear. When geothermal heating dominates, the θ - S relation hooks near the bottom and a convectively driven mixed layer forms. Both effects reduce the density and stratification near the bottom. In contrast, bottom-intensified diffusion has the same effect near the bottom but results in an increase of density and stratification some distance above the bottom. If the bottom slopes, a horizontal density gradient results, setting up a geostrophic, bottom-intensified, along-slope flow that can effect mass transport. Evidence of the importance of these processes is found in the abyssal Pacific. Just over the western flank of the East Pacific Rise, a 700–900 m thick layer of low N 2 (buoyancy frequency) is warmer, saltier, and lighter than interior water at the same depth. This layer is described with CTD data from recent hydrographic sections at nominal latitudes 15°S and 10°N. If the interior is motionless, this low N 2 layer transports 4 and 8 × 10 6 m 3 s −1 equatorward above the western flank of the rise at 15°S and 10°N, respectively. This equatorward current, a direct result of diffusion and heating over a sloping sea-floor, has a volume transport comparable to those of the deep western boundary current at these latitudes.


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