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The Southwest Atlantic circulation

Here is a list of published papers related to the Southwest Atlantic and Patagonian shelf circulation

  • [30] Combes, V., Matano, R. P., & Palma, E. (2021). Circulation and cross-shelf exchanges in the northern shelf region of the southwestern Atlantic: Kinematics. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 126, e2020JC016959. https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JC016959 Link
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    Abstract: A high-resolution ocean model is used to characterize the circulation and cross-shelf exchanges in the Brazilian/Uruguayan portion of the southwestern Atlantic shelf. Cross-shelf exchanges are strongly modulated by the bottom topography. There is ∼1.2 Sv of on-shelf transport between 21°S and 25.2°S, and ∼1.6 Sv of off-shelf transport between 35°S and 25.2°S. North of 25.2°S, the cross-shelf exchanges show a two-layer structure with an off-shelf flow in the upper 50m and on-shelf flow deep below. A Lagrangian diagnostic shows that ∼0.15 Sv of deep waters from the Brazil Current (z > 200 m) are injected into the shelf. Mixing with ambient waters produces a spicier (warmer and saltier) water mass, which is ejected into the open ocean in the southern region. Backward in-time particle's trajectories analysis reveals that 95% of the southward shelf transport at 32°S originates in the open ocean at 22°S. Our model diagnostics show that there is a very limited connectivity between the shelf regions north and south of Cabo Frio. Correlation analysis shows no significant influence of El Niño Southern Oscillation (ENSO) and Southern Annular Mode (SAM) on the time variability of the cross-shelf transport. Cross-shelf transports, however, are significantly correlated with the local wind stress variability.

  • [28] Meerhoff E., O. Defeo, V. Combes, B.C. Franco, R.P. Matano, A.R. Piola, F. Hernández Vaca, E. Celentano (2020): Assessment of larval connectivity in a sandy beach mole crab through a coupled bio-oceanographic model. Estuarine, Coastal and Shelf Science, 246, 107035. doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ecss.2020.107035 Link
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    Abstract: The biophysical mechanisms influencing larval distribution and their impacts on the metapopulation dynamics of sandy beaches, particularly the connectivity patterns associated with larval dispersal, are poorly understood. Here, we identify larval connectivity patterns of the mole crab Emerita brasiliensis in the coast of Uruguay. A biophysical individual based model (IBM) of larval transport was coupled to a regional high-resolution physical model to estimate the monthly and interannual variation of larval connectivity, as well as the impact of the length of the reproductive period on it. Larval connectivity showed marked interannual variations, which were mainly related to interannual changes in seasonal winds and associated ocean circulation patterns, particularly during La Niña years. The southernmost area where E. brasiliensis occurs only received larvae from the nearest release area in November and January spawning events during a strong La Niña year, characterized by intense northeasterly winds. The Uruguayan coast constitutes the leading (poleward) edge of the distribution of E. brasiliensis, where climate change effects are projected to intensify. Extrapolation of these results to a climate change scenario with stronger La Niña events, suggest that larval transport to southernmost beaches will become more probable.

  • [27] Franco B.C., V. Combes and V. González Carman (2020): Subsurface Ocean Warming Hotspots and Potential Impacts on Marine Species: The Southwest South Atlantic Ocean Case Study. Front. Mar. Sci. 7:563394. doi:https://doi.org/10.3389/fmars.2020.563394 Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: In the southwest South Atlantic Ocean (SWAO) strong ocean surface warming hotspots have been observed mainly along the path of the Brazil Current (BC), Brazil-Malvinas Confluence (BMC), and in the Río de la Plata (RdlP). However, there is no knowledge about the signature of ocean hotspots below the surface and the potential effects of ocean warming on marine biota. In this work, we provide initial evidence of how deep the hotspots of the SWAO extend in the water column, in particular at mid-water and bottom layers where two marine species - the green turtle (Chelonia mydas) and the Patagonian scallop (Zygochlamys patagonica) - inhabit. We compare 15 years (2003–2017) of Copernicus Marine Environment Monitoring Service (CMEMS) ARMOR3D high−resolution (1/4◦) 3-D temperatures reprocessed from combined satellite and in situ observations with high−resolution (1/12◦) Mercator ocean reanalysis. We also use location data of C. mydas and Z. patagonica to discuss the potential impacts of warming on these species in terms of geographic distribution, phenological shifts and thermal tolerance. The potential distribution of C. mydas changes in relation to the sea surface temperature (SST) and the bathymetry. The warming of the whole water column in the RdlP (>0.4◦C/decade) and the southward movement of the mean surface isotherms, which likely drove turtle displacements, could enable the opening up of novel optimal thermal habitats and/or a longer seasonal residency for the species. At the BMC, warming is driven by the southward displacement of the BC during the past decades. Ocean model temperature indicates cooling/warming in deep waters along the outer shelf and shelf break regions, which vary according the displacements of the BMC. The expected warming of the waters over the Patagonian scallop largest bed could exceed the thermal tolerance of this species and its survival. Given the lack of long-term monitoring programs to address the impacts of climate change on marine biota in the SWAO, our results provide the first effort to call the attention of stakeholders and decision makers on marine conservation and fishery management to work toward better management strategies in the context of climate change.

  • [26] Matano, R.P., V. Combes, E.F. Young and M. Meredith (2020): Modeling the Impact of Ocean Circulation on Chlorophyll Blooms Around South Georgia, Southern Ocean. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, doi:https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JC016391. Link
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    Abstract:The northeast corner of the Scotia Sea hosts one of the largest chlorophyll-a blooms of the Southern Ocean. This bloom peaks to the northwest of the island of South Georgia, extending eastward for hundreds of kilometers. Although the Southern Ocean has many islands of similar size, South Georgia is ecologically one of the most significant: it not only sustains one of the Southern Ocean’s largest and most diverse ecosystems but also is its single most important region for biological carbon sequestration. While the exceptional nature of South Georgia’s blooms has been widely recognized, both the physical processes that contribute to their fertilization and the reasons why these blooms are larger than those of other similar regions (e.g. Kerguelen or Crozet Islands), are poorly understood. We use the results of a high-resolution ocean model to investigate the physical processes that mediate the entrainment of deep, iron rich waters into the surface layers of the South Georgia region. We show that the Southern Antarctic Circumpolar Current Front, the southernmost jet of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), pumps iron-enriched waters from the deep ocean onto the bottom layers of South Georgia’s shelf. These waters are upwelled along the northern coast of the island and are then exported into the Georgia Basin, where topographically steered circulation shields them from the dispersive effects of local currents and eddies, thus allowing the bloom development.

  • [25] Palma,E., R.P. Matano, M. Tonini, P. Martos and V. Combes (2020): Dynamical Analysis of the Oceanic Circulation in the Gulf of San Jorge, Argentina. Journal of Marine Systems, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.jmarsys.2019.103261. Link
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    Abstract:This study identifies the dynamical mechanisms driving seasonal variations in oceanic circulation and water mass characteristics of the Gulf of San Jorge (GSJ) and its exchanges with the Patagonian Shelf (PS). A suite of process-oriented numerical experiments indicates that GSJ circulation is mainly driven by tidal forcing and modulated by wind forcing and intrusions from the PS. During late spring and summer, stratification decouples the upper and deeper layers of the gulf, leading to a shallow, wind-forced surface circulation and a deeper, density driven, cyclonic geostrophic flow. The subsurface circulation is induced by differential tidal mixing in coastal and deep areas and its intensity is strongly affected by the temporal variability of the atmospheric heat flux, which increases from spring to summer and fades from fall to winter. As stratification weakens, circulation patterns are replaced by wind-driven anticyclonic gyres in the south and an open cyclonic loop in the north. Passive tracer diagnostics show that in summer, surface and subsurface waters from the GSJ northern coast are exported and replaced by waters from the coastal portion of PS currents. The renewal of bottom waters is slower: A small portion upwells in the southwestern coast but most are ventilated by winter convection in the southern region and by intrusions of PS waters in the northern region

  • [24] Combes, V. and R.P. Matano (2019): On the origins of the low-frequency seasurface height variability of the Patagonia shelf region. Ocean Modelling, doi:https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ocemod.2019.101454. Link
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    Abstract: In this study, we identify the drivers of the dominant mode of sea surface height interannual variability over the Patagonian shelf using a suite of process-oriented numerical experiments. Consistent with altimetry, the dominant mode of the model sea surface height interannual variability, which accounts for approximately 84% of the total variance, exhibits a robust deterministic low-frequency variability. The weak sea surface height gradients indicate that this mode has a weak dynamical effect, but the contribution of the steric effect is shown to be non significant. Here we demonstrate that the temporal variability of this mode is not driven by heat or freshwater fluxes but by the propagation of sea surface height perturbations generated in the Pacific. In particular, we show that sea surface height interannual variability over the Patagonian shelf is influenced by wind stress forcing in the offshore region of southern Chile and by the propagation of equatorial sea surface height anomalies.

  • [23] Matano, R.P., E. Palma and V. Combes (2019): The Burdwood Bank Circulation. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. doi.org/10.1029/2019JC015001. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: A suite of high‐resolution numerical simulations characterizes the oceanic circulation in the Burdwood Bank (BB), a shallow seamount located in the northeastern end of the Drake Passage. Model analysis shows energetic upwelling and mixing uplifting deep and benthic waters into the photic layer. Tides and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current are the primary drivers of the bank's circulation. Tidal forcing is the main driver for the entrainment of deep waters into the upper layers of the bank and local wind forcing for the detrainment of these waters into the deep ocean. Passive tracer diagnostics suggest that the dynamical processes triggered by the BB could have a significant impact on local ecosystems and the biogeochemical balance of the southwestern Atlantic region, which is one of the most fertile portions of the Southern Ocean. Model results are robust—they are reproduced in a wide array of model configurations—but there is insufficient observational evidence to corroborate them. Satellite color imagery does not show substantial chlorophyll blooms in this region but it shows strong phytoplankton plumes emanating from the bank. There are several potential explanations for the chlorophyll deficit, including lack of light due to persistent cloud cover, deep mixing layers, fast ocean currents and the likelihood that blooms, while extant, might not develop on the surface. None of these possibilities can be confirmed at this stage.

  • [22] Combes, V. and R.P. Matano (2018): The Patagonian shelf circulation: Drivers and variability. Progress in Oceanography, 167, 24-43, doi.org/10.1016/j.pocean.2018.07.003 Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: A high-resolution ocean model is used to characterize the local and remote driving mechanisms of the variability of the Patagonian shelf circulation. Local forcing includes the effects of tides, buoyancy fluxes and wind, while remote forcing represents the impact of the adjacent deep-ocean currents. There is an abrupt change of the dynamical characteristics of the shelf circulation at 40°S. South of 40°S, the seasonal variations of the shelf circulation are out of phase with the local wind stress and are driven by deep ocean inflows originated in the Drake Passage. The inter-annual variability of the shelf circulation is principally driven by the wind and shows a significant correlation with the time variations of the Southern Annular Mode index. The variability of the circulation and upwelling at the shelfbreak region are modulated by the variability of the Malvinas Current transport at low frequency (periods higher than two years), and by the local wind stress at higher frequencies. North of 40°S, the local wind forcing drives the seasonal variations of the shelf transport. The inter-annual variability of the flow is driven by the combined action of the Rio de la Plata discharge (significantly correlated with the El Niño Southern Oscillation), local wind stress and the Brazil-Malvinas Confluence in the outer shelf. In agreement with previous studies, we show that while the position of the confluence marks the location of the largest offshelf transports, it does not determine their magnitude. The offshelf transport variability is controlled by the local wind at high frequency (periods less than a year) and by the equatorward inflow of southern waters at longer periods. Our simulation indicates that the variability of the Subtropical Shelf Front is modulated by the local wind stress forcing, position of the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence and the equatorward inflow of Subantarctic waters.

  • [21] Franco, B.C., E.D. Palma, V. Combes, E.M. Acha and M. Saraceno (2018): Modeling the offshore export of Subantarctic Shelf Waters from the Patagonian shelf. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 123. https://doi.org/10.1029/2018JC013824 Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: It has been suggested that the Subtropical Shelf Front (STSF) could be a preferential site for the detrainment of Subantarctic Shelf Waters (SASW) and related planktonic shelf species onto the open SW Atlantic Ocean. The offshore detrainment of SASW and planktonic shelf species might be an exportation mechanism, affecting the population abundances of fishing resources in Argentina, Uruguay and Southern Brazil. In this study, we characterize for the first time the 3-D structure of the STSF and the main routes of offshore export of SASW from the Patagonian shelf during austral summer (summer and early fall) and winter (winter and early spring) by using numerical hydrodynamical model results and Lagrangian tracking simulations of neutrally buoyant floats. The transport of SASW towards the open ocean is 1 Sv (1 Sv = 106 m3.s-1) during summer and 0.8 Sv during winter. SASW are exported offshore mainly near the Brazil–Malvinas Confluence (BMC) region during both seasons. The STSF appears to act as an important retention mechanism for the plankton over the inner and middle shelf mainly during late summer and early fall. Our findings could explain the life cycle of distinct fish species which are distributed in the region, as well as the population abundance variability of such species.

  • [18] Franco, B.C., E.D. Palma, V. Combes, M.L. Lasta (2017): Physical processes controlling passive larval transport at the Patagonian Shelf Break Front. Journal of Sea Research, 124, 17-25 Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: The largest beds of the Patagonian scallop (Zygochlamys patagonica) have been associated with high chlorophyll- a concentration observed along the Patagonian Shelf Break Front but there is no supported hypothesis about how this benthic-pelagic connection is maintained. In this work we address the main physical processes driving the benthic-pelagic linkages through oriented numerical experiments derived from a realistic, high-resolution numerical model, and Lagrangian stochastic simulations. The results support the hypothesis of an important dynamical control of the slope current on the fate of surface released passive particles and their subsequent bottom settlement. A high percentage of the particles released at the surface settled over the scallop beds. The particles remaining at the surface layer followed a prevailing NE flow direction with low cross-shelf dispersion. Additional experiments show that the secondary cross-shelf circulation forced by the slope current promotes downwelling and hence the settlement of particles on the westward side (onshore) of the shelf break. The percent of particles settling over the scallop beds exceeded 80% by the addition of vertical stochastic turbulence and tidal forcing. These results highlight the importance of including the vertical diffusivity in particle tracking experiments to better estimate benthic-pelagic interaction processes.

  • [16] Strub, P. T., C. James, V. Combes, R. P. Matano, A. R. Piola, E. D. Palma, M. Saraceno, R. A. Guerrero, H. Fenco, and L. A. Ruiz-Etcheverry (2015): Altimeter-derived seasonal circulation on the southwest Atlantic shelf: 278– 438S, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 120. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: Altimeter sea surface height (SSH) fields are analyzed to define and discuss the seasonal circulation over the wide continental shelf in the SW Atlantic Ocean (278–438S) during 2001–2012. Seasonal variability is low south of the Rio de la Plata (RdlP), where winds and currents remain equatorward for most of the year. Winds and currents in the central and northern parts of our domain are also equatorward during autumn and winter but reverse to become poleward during spring and summer. Transports of shelf water to the deep ocean are strongest during summer offshore and to the southeast of the RdlP. Details of the flow are discussed using mean monthly seasonal cycles of winds, heights, and currents, along with analyses of Empirical Orthogonal Functions. Principle Estimator Patterns bring out the patterns of wind forcing and ocean response. The largest part of the seasonal variability in SSH signals is due to changes in the wind forcing (described above) and changes in the strong boundary currents that flow along the eastern boundary of the shelf. The rest of the variability contains a smaller component due to heating and expansion of the water column, concentrated in the southern part of the region next to the coast. Our results compare well to previous studies using in situ data and to results from realistic numerical models of the regional circulation.

  • [14] Guerrero, R. A., A. R. Piola, H. Fenco, R. P. Matano, V. Combes, Y. Chao, C. James, E. D. Palma, M. Saraceno, P. Ted Strub (2014): The salinity signature of the cross-shelf exchanges in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean: Satellite observations, J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, 7794–7810, doi:10.1002/2014JC010113. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: Satellite-derived sea surface salinity (SSS) data from Aquarius and SMOS are used to study the shelf-open ocean exchanges in the western South Atlantic near 35 S. Away from the tropics, these exchanges cause the largest SSS variability throughout the South Atlantic. The data reveal a well-defined seasonal pattern of SSS during the analyzed period and of the location of the export of low-salinity shelf waters. In spring and summer, low-salinity waters over the shelf expand offshore and are transferred to the open ocean primarily southeast of the river mouth (from 36 S to 37 300S). In contrast, in fall and winter, low-salinity waters extend along a coastal plume and the export path to the open ocean distributes along the offshore edge of the plume. The strong seasonal SSS pattern is modulated by the seasonality of the along-shelf component of the wind stress over the shelf. However, the combined analysis of SSS, satellite-derived sea surface elevation and surface velocity data suggest that the precise location of the export of shelf waters depends on offshore circulation patterns, such as the location of the Brazil Malvinas Confluence and mesoscale eddies and meanders of the Brazil Current. The satellite data indicate that in summer, mixtures of low-salinity shelf waters are swiftly driven toward the ocean interior along the axis of the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence. In winter, episodic wind reversals force the low-salinity coastal plume offshore where they mix with tropical waters within the Brazil Current and create a warmer variety of low-salinity waters in the open ocean.

  • [13] Matano, R. P., V. Combes, A. R. Piola, R. Guerrero, E. D. Palma, P. Ted Strub, C. James, H. Fenco, Y. Chao, M. Saraceno (2014): The salinity signature of the cross-shelf exchanges in the Southwestern Atlantic Ocean: Numerical simulations.J. Geophys. Res. Oceans, 119, doi:10.1002/2014JC010116. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: A high-resolution model is used to characterize the dominant patterns of sea surface salinity (SSS) variability generated by the freshwater discharges of the Rio de la Plata (RdlP) and the Patos/Mirim Lagoon in the southwestern Atlantic region. We identify three dominant modes of SSS variability. The first two, which have been discussed in previous studies, represent the seasonal and the interannual variations of the freshwater plumes over the continental shelf. The third mode of SSS variability, which has not been discussed hitherto, represents the salinity exchanges between the shelf and the deep ocean. A diagnostic study using floats and passive tracers identifies the pathways taken by the freshwater plumes. During the austral winter (JJA), the plumes leave the shelf region north of the BMC. During the austral summer (DJF), the plumes are entrained more directly into the BMC. A sensitivity study indicates that the high-frequency component of the wind stress forcing controls the vertical structure of the plumes while the low-frequency component of the wind stress forcing and the interannual variations of the RdlP discharge controls the horizontal structure of the plumes. Dynamical analysis reveals that the cross-shelf flow has a dominant barotropic structure and, therefore, the SSS anomalies detected by Aquarius represent net mass exchanges between the shelf and the deep ocean. The net cross-shelf volume flux is 1.21 Sv. This outflow is largely compensated by an inflow from the Patagonian shelf

  • [12] Combes, V. and R.P. Matano (2014): Trends in the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence region. Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, doi:10.1002/2014GL062523. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: Observations show abrupt changes in the oceanic circulation of the southwestern Atlantic. These studies report a southward drift of the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence (BMC) and a change in the spectral characteristics of the Malvinas Current (MC) transport. We address the cause of these changes using the result of a high-resolution numerical experiment. The experiment, which is consistent with observations, shows a southward BMC displacement at a rate of 0.62°/decade between 1993 and 2008, and a shift of the spectral characteristics of the MC transport after 1999. We find that these changes are driven by a weakening of the northern branch of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, which translates to a weakening of the MC transport and a southward BMC drift. The drift changes the spectral characteristics of the MC transport, which becomes more influenced by annual and semiannual variations associated with the BMC.

  • [11] Combes, V. and R.P. Matano (2014): A two-way nested simulation of the oceanic circulation in the Southwestern Atlantic. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans. 119, doi:10.1002/2013JC009498. Link [PDF]
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    Abstract: This article presents the results of a high-resolution (1/12 ), two-way nested simulation of the oceanic circulation in the southwestern Atlantic region. A comparison between the model results and extant observations indicates that the nested model has skill in reproducing the best-known aspects of the regional circulation, e.g., the volume transport of the ACC, the latitudinal position of the BMC, the shelf break upwelling of Patagonia, and the Zapiola Anticyclone. Sensitivity experiments indicate that the bottom stress parameterization significantly impacts the mean location of the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence and the transport of the Zapiola Anticyclone. The transport of the Brazil Current strengthens during the austral summer and weakens during the austral winter. These variations are driven by the wind stress curl over the southwestern Atlantic. The variations of the transport of the Malvinas Current are out of phase with those of the Brazil Current. Most of the seasonal variability of this current is concentrated in the offshore portion of the jet, the inshore portion has a weak seasonality that modulates the magnitude of the Patagonian shelf break upwelling. Using passive tracers we show that most of the entrainment of deep waters into the shelf occurs in the southernmost portion of the Patagonian shelf and along the inshore boundary of the Brazil Current. Shelf waters are preferentially detrained near the Brazil/Malvinas Confluence. Consistent with previous studies, our simulation also shows that south of 42 S the Malvinas Current is composed of two jets, which merge near 42 S to form a single jet farther north.