Impact of the Extreme Warming of 2012 on Shelfbreak Frontal Structure North of Cape Hatteras

Tuesday, 16 December 2014
Glen Gawarkiewickz, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA, United States
Continental shelf circulation north of Cape Hatteras is complex, with southward flowing Middle Atlantic Bight shelf water intersecting the Gulf Stream and subducting offshore into the Gulf Stream. In May, 2012, a cruise was conducted in order to study the shelf circulation and acoustic propagation through fish schools in the area. An important aspect of the study was to use Autonomous Underwater Vehicles to map fish schools with a sidescan sonar. High-resolution hydrographic surveys to map the continental shelf water masses and shelfbreak frontal structure were sampled to relate oceanographic conditions to the fish school distributions.

The cold pool water mass over the continental shelf in May 2012 was extremely warm, with temperature anomalies of up to 5 Degrees C relative to observations from the same area in May, 1996. The normal cross-shelf temperature gradients within the shelfbreak front were not present because of the warming. As a result, the shelf density field was much more buoyant than usual, which led to an accelerated shelfbreak jet. Moored velocity measurements at the 60 m isobath recorded alongshelf flow of as much as 0.6 m/s.

The anticipated fish species were not observed over the continental shelf. Some comments on the forcing leading to the large scale warming will be presented, along with a brief discussion of the impact of the warming on the marine ecosystem in the northeast U.S.