Observation-based estimates of heat and freshwater exchanges from the subtropical North Atlantic to the Arctic

Feili Li, M. Susan Lozier, N. Penny Holliday, William E. Johns, Isabela A. Le Bras, Ben I. Moat, Stuart A. Cunningham, M. Femke de Jong

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Continuous measurements from the OSNAP (Overturning in the Subpolar North Atlantic Program) array yield the first estimates of trans-basin heat and salinity transports in the subpolar latitudes. For the period from August 2014 to May 2018, there is a poleward heat transport of 0.50 ± 0.05 PW and a poleward salinity transport of 12.5 ± 1.0 Sv across the OSNAP section. Based on the mass and salt budget analyses, we estimate that a surface freshwater input of 0.36 ± 0.05 Sv over the broad subpolar-Arctic region is needed to balance the ocean salinity change created by the OSNAP transports. The overturning circulation is largely responsible for setting these heat and salinity transports (and the derived surface freshwater input) derived from the OSNAP array, while the gyre (isopycnal) circulation contributes to a lesser, but still significant, extent. Despite its relatively weak overturning and heat transport, the Labrador Sea is a strong contributor to salinity and freshwater changes in the subpolar region. Combined with trans-basin transport estimates at other locations, we provide new estimates for the time-mean surface heat and freshwater divergences over a wide domain of the Arctic-North Atlantic region to the north and south of the OSNAP line. Furthermore, we estimate the total heat and freshwater exchanges across the surface area of the extratropical North Atlantic between the OSNAP and the RAPID-MOCHA (RAPID Meridional Overturning Circulation and Heat-flux Array) arrays, by combining the cross-sectional transports with vertically-integrated ocean heat and salinity content. Comparisons with the air-sea heat and freshwater fluxes from atmospheric reanalysis products show an overall consistency, yet with notable differences in the magnitudes during the observation time period.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article number102640
JournalProgress in Oceanography
StatePublished - Sep 1 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Oceanic heat and salinity transports
  • Overturning and gyre circulation
  • Surface heat and freshwater exchange

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aquatic Science
  • Geology


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