Seasonal variability of the Red Sea, from satellite gravity, radar altimetry, and in situ observations

Wahr, John; Smeed, David A. ORCID:; Leuliette, Eric; Swenson, Sean. 2014 Seasonal variability of the Red Sea, from satellite gravity, radar altimetry, and in situ observations. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 119 (8). 5091-5104.

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Seasonal variations of sea surface height (SSH) and mass within the Red Sea are caused mostly by exchange of heat with the atmosphere and by flow through the strait opening into the Gulf of Aden to the south. That flow involves a net mass transfer into the Red Sea during fall and out during spring, though in summer there is an influx of cool water at intermediate depths. Thus, summer water in the south is warmer near the surface due to higher air temperatures, but cooler at intermediate depths. Summer water in the north experiences warming by air-sea exchange only. The temperature affects water density, which impacts SSH but has no effect on mass. We study this seasonal cycle by combining GRACE mass estimates, altimeter SSH measurements, and steric contributions derived from the World Ocean Atlas temperature climatology. Among our conclusions are: mass contributions are much larger than steric contributions; the mass is largest in winter, consistent with winds pushing water into the Red Sea in fall and out during spring; the steric signal is largest in summer, consistent with surface warming; and the cool, intermediate-depth water flowing into the Red Sea in spring has little impact on the steric signal, because contributions from the lowered temperature are offset by effects of decreased salinity. The results suggest that the combined use of altimeter and GRACE measurements can provide a useful alternative to in situ data for monitoring the steric signal.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 21699275
Additional Keywords: Red Sea; altimeter; GRACE
Date made live: 13 Aug 2014 08:41 +0 (UTC)

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