Thermohaline circulation of shallow tidal seas

TitleThermohaline circulation of shallow tidal seas
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2008
AuthorsHill, AE, Brown, J, Fernand, L, Holt, J, Horsburgh, KJ, Proctor, R, Raine, R, Turrell, WR
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Keywordscirculation, fronts, thermohaline

The mechanisms controlling the temperature and salinity structure of shallow continental shelf seas have been understood for over thirty years, yet knowledge of what drives their large-scale circulation has remained relatively unknown. Here we describe a decade long programme of measurements, using satellite-tracked drifting buoys on the northwest European shelf, to draw attention to a striking picture of highly organised thermohaline circulation consisting of narrow, near surface, fast flowing jets. These are ubiquitous above sharp horizontal gradients in bottom temperatures and/or salinities. The circulation phenomena we describe are likely to be prevalent on all similar, wide, tidally energetic continental shelves including those off north-eastern China, Argentina and parts of the Arctic. The robust, repeatable observation of the key role of jets above bottom fronts results in a fundamental reassessment of how we view the dynamics of shelf seas.