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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Dynamically and Observationally Constrained Estimates of Water-Mass Distributions and Ages in the Global Ocean


A data-constrained ocean circulation model is used to characterize the distribution of water masses and their ages in the global ocean. The model is constrained by the time-averaged temperature, salinity, and radiocarbon distributions in the ocean, as well as independent estimates of the mean sea surface height and sea surface heat and freshwater fluxes. The data-constrained model suggests that the interior ocean is ventilated primarily by water masses forming in the Southern Ocean. Southern Ocean waters, including those waters forming in the Antarctic and subantarctic regions, make up about 55% of the interior ocean volume and an even larger percentage of the deep-ocean volume. In the deep North Pacific, the ratio of Southern Ocean to North Atlantic waters is almost 3:1. Approximately 65% of interior ocean waters make first contact with the atmosphere in the Southern Ocean, further emphasizing the central role played by the Southern Ocean in the regulation of the earth’s climate. Results of the age analysis suggest that the mean ventilation age of deep waters is greater than 1000 yr throughout most of the Indian and Pacific Oceans, reaching a maximum of about 1400–1500 yr in the middepth North Pacific. The mean time for deep waters to be reexposed at the surface also reaches a maximum of about 1400–1500 yr in the deep North Pacific. Together these findings suggest that the deep North Pacific can be characterized as a “holding pen” of stagnant and recirculating waters.

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