Circulation of the European northwest shelf: a Lagrangian perspective


The dynamics of the European northwest shelf (ENWS), the surrounding deep ocean, and the continental slope between them are analysed in a framework of numerical simulations using Lagrangian methods. Several sensitivity experiments are carried out in which (1) the tides are switched off, (2) the wind forcing is low-pass filtered, and (3) the wind forcing is switched off. To measure accumulation of neutrally buoyant particles, a quantity named the “normalised cumulative particle density (NCPD)” is introduced. Yearly averages of monthly results in the deep ocean show no permanent particle accumulation areas at the surface. On the shelf, elongated accumulation patterns persist in yearly averages, often occurring along the thermohaline fronts. In contrast, monthly accumulation patterns are highly variable in both regimes. Tides substantially affect the particle dynamics on the shelf and thus the positions of fronts. The contribution of wind variability to particle accumulation in specific regions is comparable to that of tides. The role of vertical velocities in the dynamics of Lagrangian particles is quantified for both the eddy-dominated deep ocean and for the shallow shelf. In the latter area, winds normal to coasts result in upwelling and downwelling, illustrating the importance of vertical dynamics in shelf seas. Clear patterns characterising the accumulation of Lagrangian particles are associated with the vertical circulations.
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