Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 32 Issue 02

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Volume 32, No. 2
Pages 30 - 39

On the Factors Driving Upper-Ocean Salinity Variability at the Western Edge of the Eastern Pacific Fresh Pool

J. Thomas Farrar Albert J. Plueddemann
Article Abstract

The tropical Eastern Pacific Fresh Pool (EPFP) has some of the highest precipitation rates and lowest sea surface salinities found in the open ocean. In addition, the sea surface salinity in the EPFP exhibits one of the strongest annual cycles in the world ocean. The region is strongly affected by the meridionally migrating Intertropical Convergence Zone and is also influenced by large-scale ocean currents and wind-driven Ekman currents. Recognizing the complexity of competing regional influences and the importance of sea surface salinity as an integrator of freshwater forcing, the Salinity Processes Upper-ocean Regional Study (SPURS) was undertaken to better understand how ocean processes and surface freshwater fluxes set surface salinity. Instrumentation on a surface mooring, deployed for 14 months near the western edge of the EPFP, allowed estimation of the surface fluxes of momentum, heat, and freshwater. Subsurface instrumentation on the mooring provided upper-ocean vertical structure and horizontal currents. These observations, along with horizontal gradients of surface salinity from the Soil Moisture Active Passive (SMAP) satellite instrument, were used to estimate the surface-layer salinity budget at the western edge of the EPFP. While the low salinity associated with the presence of the EPFP at the mooring site was sustained by heavy rainfall, it was found that seasonal variability in large-scale currents was important to controlling the transition between the “salty” and “fresh” seasons. Ekman advection was important to prolonging local high salinity as rainfall decreased. Although illuminating some key processes, the temporal variability of the surface-layer salinity budget also shows significant complexity, with processes such as surface freshwater fluxes and vertical mixing making notable contributions. The surface flux term and the terms involving mixing across the base of the surface layer oppose and nearly cancel each other throughout the deployment, such that the horizontal advection term effectively accounts for most of the variability in surface salinity at the site on monthly to seasonal timescales. Further investigation, taking advantage of additional observations during SPURS-2, will be needed to more thoroughly examine the relevant physical processes.


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