Advective time scales of Agulhas leakage to the North Atlantic in surface drifter observations and the 3D OFES model

Erik van Sebille, Lisa M. Beal, William E. Johns

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

31 Scopus citations


The advective transit time of temperature-salinity anomalies from the Agulhas region to the regions of deep convection in the North Atlantic Ocean is an important time scale in climate, because it has been linked to variability in the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation. Studying this transit time scale is difficult, because most observational and high-resolution model data are too short for assessment of the global circulation on decadal to centennial time scales. Here, results are presented from a technique to obtain thousands of "supertrajectories" of any required length using a Monte Carlo simulation. These supertrajectories allow analysis of the circulation patterns and time scales based on Lagrangian data: in this case, observational surface drifter trajectories from the Global Drifter Program and Lagrangian data from the high-resolution OGCM for the Earth Simulator (OFES). The observational supertrajectories can only be used to study the two-dimensional (2D) surface flow, whereas the numerical supertrajectories can be used to study the full three-dimensional circulation. Results for the surface circulation indicate that the supertrajectories starting in the Agulhas Current and ending in the North Atlantic take at least 4 yr and most complete the journey in 30-40 yr. This time scale is, largely because of convergence and subduction in the subtropical gyres, longer than the 10-25 yr it takes the 3D numerical supertrajectories to complete the journey.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1026-1034
Number of pages9
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number5
StatePublished - May 1 2011


  • Atlantic Ocean
  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • Ocean circulation

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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