Long-lived vortices as a mode of deep ventilation in the Greenland Sea

Nature. 2002 Apr 4;416(6880):525-7. doi: 10.1038/416525a.


The Greenland Sea is one of a few sites in the world ocean where convection to great depths occurs-a process that forms some of the densest waters in the ocean. But the role of deep convective eddies, which result from surface cooling and mixing across density surfaces followed by geostrophic adjustment, has not been fully taken into account in the description of the initiation and growth of convection. Here we present tracer, float and hydrographic observations of long-lived ( approximately 1 year) and compact ( approximately 5 km core diameter) vortices that reach down to depths of 2 km. The eddies form in winter, near the rim of the Greenland Sea central gyre, and rotate clockwise with periods of a few days. The cores of the observed eddies are constituted from a mixture of modified Atlantic water that is warm and salty with polar water that is cold and fresh. We infer that these submesoscale coherent eddies contribute substantially to the input of Atlantic and polar waters to depths greater than 500 m in the central Greenland Sea.