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Convection, Sinking and the Poleward Heat Transport

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There is widespread belief that convective regions are regions where water is made dense and sinks, thus identifying convective locations with the sinking limb of the overturning circulation. Instead, both theory, high-resolution non-hydrostatic models and observations show that very little sinking occurs in the open-ocean deep convection regions, where the bulk of the dense water formation occurs, due to rotational constraints inhibiting large-scale vertical motion. The sinking can, on the other hand, occur in the boundary current. The boundary current sinking, however, is not equivalent to the amount of dense water formed. Instead only a fraction of the dense water sinks. From this, it also follows that the poleward heat transport related to convection regions is not all achieved by an overturning cell. In turn, this implies that one expects the variability in the overturning and in the poleward heat transport, due to dense water formation, to differ.


  • Deshayes, J., F. Straneo, M. Spall, 2009: Mechanisms of variability in a convective basin. J. Mar. Res., 67, 273-303. (Article)

  • Iovino D.,F. Straneo, M. Spall, 2008: On the effect of a sill on dense water formation in a marginal sea.  Journal of Marine Research, 66, 325–345. (Article)

  • Straneo, F., 2006: On the connection between dense water formation, overturning, and poleward heat transport in a convective basin.  J. Phys. Ocean. 36(9), 1822-1840. (Article)

Last updated: December 15, 2011

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