On the reasons for the formation and variability of the azores current

Denis L. Volkov, Lee Lueng Fu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

32 Scopus citations


Recent studies have shown that the formation of the well-defined, zonally oriented Azores Current may be the result of water mass transformation associated with the Mediterranean outflow in the Gulf of Cadiz. As the denser Mediterranean water descends down the continental slope, it entrains overlying North Atlantic Central Water. It is believed that the Azores Current then forms as part of the horizontal recirculating gyre generated through the β-plume mechanism. In this study, the authors further explore this hypothesis by performing a series of numerical experiments. These experiments are based on a high-resolution general circulation model that includes the Mediterranean Sea and that realistically simulates the water mass exchange through the Strait of Gibraltar and the transport and variability of the Azores Current. The authors show that the divergence of the relative vorticity flux and the planetary vorticity flux, associated with planetary waves, are the main factors determining the variability of the Azores Current. It is shown experimentally that the closure of the Strait of Gibraltar leads to a complete disappearance of the Azores Current. On the other hand, with the open Strait of Gibraltar, the Azores Current persists even when the wind forcing over the region is turned off. The atmospheric forcing is thus not responsible for the formation of the Azores Current, but it affects the variability of the current with a minor effect on its magnitude. Numerical experiments suggest that the strength and the variability of the Azores Current depend on the magnitude of the water mass exchange through the Strait of Gibraltar but not on its seasonal variability.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2197-2220
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number10
StatePublished - Oct 2010
Externally publishedYes


  • Currents
  • Gyres
  • Mediterranean sea

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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