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Changes in ventilation of the Mediterranean Sea during the past 25 yr

September 5, 2013

The Mediterranean Sea has a fast overturning circulation and the deep water masses are well ventilated in comparison to the deep waters of the world ocean. Significant changes in the overturning circulation has been observed during the last few decades, the most prominent phenomena being the Eastern Mediterranean Transient (EMT) in the early 1990s and the Western Mediterranean Transit (WMT) near the mid of the decade following. During both of these events unusually large amounts of deep water were formed, and in the case of the EMT, the deep water formation area shifted from the Adriatic to the Aegean Sea. This variability is important to understand and to monitor, because ventilation is the main process to propagate surface perturbations, such as uptake of anthropogenic CO2, into the ocean interior. Here we synthesize a unique collection of transient tracer (CFC-12, SF6 and tritium) data from nine cruises conducted between 1987 and 2011 and use these data to determine temporal variability of Mediterranean ventilation. We also discuss biases and technical problems with transient tracer-based ages arising from their different input histories over time; particularly in the case of time-dependent ventilation.

We observe a period of stagnation in the deep eastern (Levantine) basin after it was ventilated by the EMT so that the age of the deep water is increasing with time. In the Ionian Sea, on the other hand, we see evidence of increased ventilation after year 2001, indicating the restarted deep water formation in the Adriatic Sea. This is also reflected in the increasing age of the Cretan Sea deep water and decreasing age of Adriatic Sea deep water since the end of the 1980s. In the western Mediterranean deep basin we see the massive input of recently ventilated waters during the WMT. This signal is not yet apparent in the Tyrrhenian Sea, where the ventilation seems to be fairly constant since the EMT. Also the western Alboran Sea does not show any temporal trends in ventilation.

Schneider A, Tanhua T, Roether W, Steinfeldt R, 2013, Changes in ventilation of the Mediterranean Sea during the past 25 yr, Ocean Science Discussions, 10, doi:10.5194/osd-10-1405-2013. Article.


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