Shelf sea tidal currents and mixing fronts determined from ocean glider observations

Peter M. F. Sheehan, Barbara Berx, Alejandro Gallego, Rob A. Hall, Karen J. Heywood, Sarah L. Hughes, Bastien Y. Queste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

4 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

Tides and tidal mixing fronts are of fundamental importance to understanding shelf sea dynamics and ecosystems. Ocean gliders enable the observation of fronts and tide-dominated flows at high resolution. We use dive-average currents from a 2-month (12 October–2 December 2013) glider deployment along a zonal hydrographic section in the north-western North Sea to accurately determine M2 and S2 tidal velocities. The results of the glider-based method agree well with tidal velocities measured by current meters and with velocities extracted from the TPXO tide model. The method enhances the utility of gliders as an ocean-observing platform, particularly in regions where tide models are known to be limited. We then use the glider-derived tidal velocities to investigate tidal controls on the location of a front repeatedly observed by the glider. The front moves offshore at a rate of 0.51 km day−1. During the first part of the deployment (from mid-October until mid-November), results of a one-dimensional model suggest that the balance between surface heat fluxes and tidal stirring is the primary control on frontal location: as heat is lost to the atmosphere, full-depth mixing is able to occur in progressively deeper water. In the latter half of the deployment (mid-November to early December), a front controlled solely by heat fluxes and tidal stirring is not predicted to exist, yet a front persists in the observations. We analyse hydrographic observations collected by the glider to attribute the persistence of the front to the boundary between different water masses, in particular to the presence of cold, saline, Atlantic-origin water in the deeper portion of the section. We combine these results to propose that the front is a hybrid front: one controlled in summer by the local balance between heat fluxes and mixing and which in winter exists as the boundary between water masses advected to the north-western North Sea from diverse source regions. The glider observations capture the period when the front makes the transition from its summertime to wintertime state. Fronts in other shelf sea regions with oceanic influence may exhibit similar behaviour, with controlling processes and locations changing over an annual cycle. These results have implications for the thermohaline circulation of shelf seas.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)225-236
Number of pages12
JournalOcean Science
Volume14
Issue number2
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 15 Mar 2018

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