Salinity fronts in the tropical Pacific Ocean

J Geophys Res Oceans. 2015 Feb;120(2):1096-1106. doi: 10.1002/2014JC010114. Epub 2015 Feb 23.


This study delineates the salinity fronts (SF) across the tropical Pacific, and describes their variability and regional dynamical significance using Aquarius satellite observations. From the monthly maps of the SF, we find that the SF in the tropical Pacific are (1) usually observed around the boundaries of the fresh pool under the intertropical convergence zone (ITCZ), (2) stronger in boreal autumn than in other seasons, and (3) usually stronger in the eastern Pacific than in the western Pacific. The relationship between the SF and the precipitation and the surface velocity are also discussed. We further present detailed analysis of the SF in three key tropical Pacific regions. Extending zonally around the ITCZ, where the temperature is nearly homogeneous, we find the strong SF of 1.2 psu from 7° to 11°N to be the main contributor of the horizontal density difference of 0.8 kg/m3. In the eastern Pacific, we observe a southward extension of the SF in the boreal spring that could be driven by both precipitation and horizontal advection. In the western Pacific, the importance of these newly resolved SF associated with the western Pacific warm/fresh pool and El Niño southern oscillations are also discussed in the context of prior literature. The main conclusions of this study are that (a) Aquarius satellite salinity measurements reveal the heretofore unknown proliferation, structure, and variability of surface salinity fronts, and that (b) the fine-scale structures of the SF in the tropical Pacific yield important new information on the regional air-sea interaction and the upper ocean dynamics.

Keywords: Aquarius; pacific; salinity.