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Drifter observations of the Hebrides slope current and nearby circulation patterns

Abstract

The mean flow at and around the Hebrides and Shetland Shelf slope is measured with ARGOS tracked drifters. Forty-two drifters drogued at 50 m were deployed in three circles over the Hebrides slope at 56.15°N in two releases, one on 5th December, 1995 and the second on 5–9th May, 1996. The circles span a distance of some 20 km from water depths of 200 m to 1200 m. Drifters are initially advected poleward along-slope by the Hebrides slope current at between 0.05 and 0.70 m s−1 in a laterally constrained (25–50 km wide) jet-like flow. Drifters released in winter remained in the slope current for over 2000 km whilst summer drifters were lost from the slope current beyond the Wyville-Thomson Ridge, a major topographic feature at 60°N. Dispersion from the slope region into deeper waters occurs at bathymetric irregularities, particularly at the Anton Dohrn Seamount close to which the slope current is found to bifurcate, both in summer and winter, and at the Wyville-Thomson Ridge where drifters move into the Faeroe Shetland Channel. Dispersion onto the continental shelf occurs sporadically along the Hebrides slope. The initial dispersion around the Hebrides slope is remarkably sensitive to initial position, most of the drifters released in shallower water moving onto the shelf, whilst those in 1000 m or more are mostly carried away from the slope into deeper water near the Anton Dohrn Seamount. The dispersion coefficients estimated in directions parallel and normal to the local direction of the 500 m contour, approximately the position of the slope current core, are approximately 8.8 × 103 m2 s−1 and 0.36 × 103 m2 s−1, respectively, during winter, and 11.4 × 103 m2 s−1 and 0.36 x 103 m2 s−1, respectively, during summer. At the slope there is a minimum in across-slope mean velocity, Reynolds stress, and across-slope eddy correlations. The mean across-slope velocity associated with mass flux is about 4 × 10−3 m s−1 shelfward across the shelf break during winter and 2 × 10−3 m s−1 during summer. The drifters also sampled local patterns of circulation, and indicate that the source of water for the seasonal Fair Isle and East Shetland currents are the same, and drawn from Atlantic overflows at the Hebrides shelf.

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Burrows, M., Thorpe, S.A. Drifter observations of the Hebrides slope current and nearby circulation patterns. Annales Geophysicae 17, 280–302 (1999). https://doi.org/10.1007/s00585-999-0280-5

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  • DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/s00585-999-0280-5

Key words

  • Oceanography: physical (eastern boundary currents; eddies and mesoscale processes; turbulence, diffusion, and mixing processes)