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Slantwise convection in the Irminger Sea
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  • Isabela Alexander-Astiz Le Bras,
  • Jörn Callies,
  • Fiamma Straneo,
  • Tiago Carrilho Biló,
  • James Holte,
  • Helen Louise Johnson
Isabela Alexander-Astiz Le Bras
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution

Corresponding Author:ilebras@whoi.edu

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Jörn Callies
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Fiamma Straneo
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Tiago Carrilho Biló
Scripps Institution of Oceanography/UCSD
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James Holte
Scripps Institution of Oceanography
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Helen Louise Johnson
University of Oxford
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The subpolar North Atlantic is a site of significant carbon dioxide, oxygen, and heat exchange with the atmosphere. This exchange, which regulates transient climate change and prevents large-scale hypoxia throughout the North Atlantic, is thought to be mediated by vertical mixing in the ocean's surface mixed layer. Here we present observational evidence that waters deeper than the conventionally defined mixed layer are affected directly by atmospheric forcing. When northerly winds blow along the Irminger Sea's western boundary current, the Ekman response pushes denser water over lighter water and triggers slantwise convection. We estimate that this down-front wind forcing is four times stronger than air--sea heat flux buoyancy forcing and can mix waters to several times the conventionally defined mixed layer depth. Slantwise convection is not included in most large-scale ocean models, which likely limits their ability to accurately represent subpolar water mass transformations and deep ocean ventilation.