Surface Drifters in the Weddell: A look at Frontal Crossings and Climate Links
Mentor:Andrew Thompson, Assistant Professor in Environmental Science and Engineering, California Institute of Technology
The complex export pathways between the tip of the Antarctic Peninsula and the greater Southern Ocean are of importance to both biologists and physical oceanographers for the part they play in shaping ecosystems and global circulation. In January 2012, 40 drifting bouys, equipped with GPS tracking and temperature sensors, were released in the northwestern Weddell Sea as part of the Gliders: Excellent New Tools for Observing the Ocean (GENTOO) project. This project compares this new data to a similar study conducted in 2007 as part of the Antarctic Drifter Experiment: Links to Isobaths and Ecosystems (ADELIE) project. The satellite-tracked paths from the GENTOO drifters followed contours of constant depth like the ADELIE drifters but the GENTOO drifters took 5 fewer days to exit the Weddell Sea and took only one of the 3 observed paths in the ADELIE experiment. In 2012 the sea surface temperatures were 1 degree C warmer than in 2007. Also, the drifter trajectories were collocated with maximums in chlorophyll concentration in 2007 but not in 2012. The comparison of these two datasets provide insights into temporal variability of the export pathways, and how the export pathways and their connection with biological productivity might vary with climate.