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The Irminger Gyre: Circulation, convection, and interannual variability


In this study 36 hydrographic transects occupied between 1991 and 2007 in the vicinity of the WOCE A1E/AR7E section are used to investigate various aspects of the Irminger Gyre, a narrow cyclonic recirculation in the southwest Irminger Sea. Vertical sections of absolute geostrophic velocity were constructed using satellite and shipboard velocity measurements, and analyzed in conjunction with the hydrographic data and meteorological fields. The Irminger Gyre is a weakly baroclinic feature with a mean transport of 6.8±1.9 Sv (). At mid-depth it contains water with the same properties as Labrador Sea Water (LSW). During the 17-year study period large changes occurred in the gyre and also within the boundary flow encircling the Irminger Sea. The gyre intensified and became more stratified, while the upper-layer circulation of the boundary current system weakened. The latter is consistent with the overall decline of the North Atlantic subpolar gyre reported earlier. However, the decline of the upper-ocean boundary currents was accompanied by an intensification of the circulation at deeper levels. The deep component of both the northward-flowing boundary current (the Irminger Current) and the southward-flowing boundary current (the Deep Western Boundary Current) strengthened. The increase in transport of the deep Irminger Current is due to the emergence of a second deep limb of the current, presumably due to a shift in pathways of the branches of the subpolar gyre. Using a volumetric water mass analysis it is argued that LSW was formed locally within the Irminger Gyre via deep convection in the early 1990s. In contrast, LSW appeared outside of the gyre in the eastern part of the Irminger Sea with a time lag of 2–3 years, consistent with transit from the Labrador Sea. Thus, our analysis clarifies the relative contributions of locally-versus remotely-formed LSW in the Irminger Sea.


Academic article




  • Kjetil Våge
  • Robert S. Pickart
  • Artem Sarafanov
  • Øyvind Knutsen
  • Herlé Mercier
  • Pascale Lherminier
  • Hendrik M. van Aken
  • Jens Meincke
  • Detlef Quadfasel
  • Sheldon Bacon


  • Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution
  • P.P. Shirshov Instiute of Oceanology
  • SINTEF Ocean / Fisheries and New Biomarine Industry
  • National Center for Scientific Research
  • Royal Netherlands Institute for Sea Research
  • University of Hamburg
  • National Oceanography Centre Southampton



Published in

Deep Sea Research Part I: Oceanographic Research Papers










590 - 614

View this publication at Cristin