A physical and chemical description of the Mediterranean outflow in the Gulf of Cadiz

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  • A Phys ica l and Chemica l Descr ip t ion of the Med i te r ranean

    Out f low in the Gu l f o f Cad iz

    UDC 551.465.45:551.465.42; Northeast Atlantic, 5Iarsden Square 109

    I. Ambar , M. R. Howe and M. I. Abdu l lah

    Summary The Mediterranean outflow is considered as two separate cores (upper and

    lower) which follow a well defined route between Gibraltar and Cabo SBo Vincente. Their physical and chemical properties are discussed in some detail and used as evidence for treating the upper core as a separate water mass. This core is also shown to suffer a 20 % depletion in ,its concentration as it traverses the Gulf of Cadiz, whereas that of the lower core remains almost constant. In addition there was some indication of winter cooling and sinking of the shelf water which seems to be enhanced by the presence of the more prominent canyons in the area.

    Eine physikalische und ehemische Beschreibung des Mittelmeer-Ausstroms in den Golf yon Cadiz (Zusammenfassung)

    Das Ausstr6men des Mittelmeerwassers geschieht in zwei getrennten (oberen und unteren) Kernmassen, die sich entlang einer deutlich abgegrenzten Route zwischen Gibraltar und Cabo Sgo Vicente ausbreiten. Ihre physikalischen und chemischen Eigenschaften werden ausfiihrlich beschrieben und als Beweis dafiir benutzt, dab man den oberen Kern als getrennte Wassermasse behandeln kann. Es wird auch gezeigt, dab dieser Kern beim Durchzug durch den Golf yon Cadiz in seiner Kon- zentration um 20 % abgeschw~icht wird, wohingegen die untere Kernkonzentration fast konstaut bleibt. AuBerdem gibt es Anzeichen fiir ein Abkiihlen und Absinken des Schelfwassers im Winter, welches durch das Vorhandensein yon Cations in diesem Gebiet verst~rkt zu werden scheint.

    Une description physique et chimique du courant d'gcoulement m6diterran6en dans le Golfe de Cadix (R~sum~)

    Le courant d'6coulement m@diterran~en est consid@r5 comme comportant deux couches distinctes (la sup6rieure et l'inf@Heure), qui suivent une route bien d@finie entre Gibraltar et le Cap Saint-Vincent. Leurs propri6t@s physiques et chimiques font l'objet d'une discussion d4taill@e et sont utilisSes comme t@moins permettant de traiter la couche sup4rieure comme une masse d'eau s@ar@e. On montre 5galement que cette couche subit une d@perdition de concentration de 20 % lors de la travers6e du Golfe de Cadix, alors que celle de la couche inf@rieure reste presque constante. :De plus, il a 6t6 constat@ un certain refroidissement hivernal et un enfoncement de l'eau du plateau continental, qui semble renforc@ par la presence des canyons les plus importants de la rSgion.

    1. Introduction

    I t is now accepted that the outflow of the Mediterranean water from the Straits of Gibraltar can be influenced by several different processes. The seasonal changes that occur have been acknowledged for some time (S chot t [1928]), and recently shorter period fluctua-

  • Ambar et al., Med i te r ranean Out f low in the Gu l f of Cadiz 59

    tions in the flow have been attributed to the variations in atmospheric pressure between the regions to the East and West of the Straits (Lacombe [1961]; Crepon [1965]). There are strong tidal currents superimposed on the flow and Defant [1961] has discussed the likely internal tidal oscillations in the Straits and their effect on the boundary between the inflowing Atlantic water at the surface and the deeper Mediterranean outflow, whereas Boyce [1975] has made a similar study of internal waves. Furthermore, the outflow to the West of Gibraltar may also be influenced by the bottom topography and this has been considered in some detail by Madela in [1970]. Finally an explanation is required for the fact that a core of Mediter- ranean water can be observed in the Atlantic at depths other than the traditional 1200 m !~rel. Several publications have noted the existence of a prominent T-S maximum between 5~0 to 800 m which Howe, Abdu l lah and Deetae [1974] have described in terms of its chemical and physical properties. They suggested that this water originates from a relatively shallow depth within the Straits.

    There are therefore several processes which can influence the intensity and characteristics of the outflow as well as its most likely route, and their relative importance has yet tO be determined. The use of TSD systems in this area have provided observations which indicate a complex situation in which water masses are being generated under different circumstances and then mix at different depths to produce considerable variability in the properties in both the horizontal and vertical directions. The t~.t~.S. "Shaeldeton" cruise (2/73) included a study of the region between Cabo Sgo Vieente.and Gibraltar in March 1973, and this provided physical and chemical data which adequately demonstrated the degree of inhomogeneity in the water column. The four sections (Fig. 1) were completed within 5 days although most of the

    375 N

    36 ~

    /~e - - depth contours in fathoms

    ~O0~/~C ente

    Qo77 . % / \ \ \ st2,t \ , , 10C~ < ~ ' ~ , ~, ~ ~, Gibraltar 9~ S ~ 7 ~

    Fig'. 1. Station positions ill sections IV to VII. 9 TSD station. 9 TSD and chemical sampling

    6 ~

    stations (59 to 91) were made within a period of 66 h. The remainder (92 to 100) were delayed due to a storm. The stations were purposely located along the prominent canyons in the area with the intention of observing any unusual effects which might be caused by these topo- graphical features. We shall describe the hydrography of the region at this time of the year ::a terms of the evidence presented in these sections and thereby attempt to explain the events which might occur as the outflow leaves the Straits and moves around the Gulf of Cadiz towards Cabo Sgo Vieente. A TSD system was used and this was supplemented by water samples from standard depths at certain stations (Fig. 1), from which the nutrient salts (nitrate, silicate and phosphate) were determined. The chemical methods of analysis have already been fully described (Howe, Abdu l lah and Deetae [1974]).

  • 60 Deutsche Hydrographische Zeitschrift, Jahrgang 29, 1976, Hef t 2

    2. Temperature, salinity and nutrient profiles

    An inspection of the T, S and nutrient distributions (Figs. 2, 3, 4, 5) will show that the normal Atlantic water column, which is best represented in this area by the offshore stations in each section, can be severely disturbed by the intrusion of the Mediterranean outflow. This main ly occurs near the continental slope between depths of 450 m and 1300 m.

    s to t ion number 69 68 67 66 65 62~ 63 62 61 60 59

    6~176 ~:~

  • Ambar et al., Mediterranean Outflow in the Gulf of Cadiz 61

    The unaffected surface layers between 50 to 400 m show, in general, a regular decrease of T and S with depth, from 15 ~ to 12 ~ and 36.2 ~ o to 35.7 ~ o respectively. This is accompanied by an increase in the values of the nutrient salts (Figs. 2b, 3b, 5b). However,





    ~ 800

    ~ 1000 1200


    s tat ion number ) 71 72 7,3 74 75 76 70 71 72 7? 74 75 76









    !I\\ T .. k~--" ~ 1 1 . o - ~

    Fig. 3a. Section V. Distribution of salinity and temperature

    at several inshore stations these layers have also been disturbed, but in this case by an apparent surface sinking process. This is particularly evident in sections V and VII where it seems probable that the effect of winter cooling on the shelf has been encouraged by the presence of a prominent submarine canyon to produce a tongue of downwelled surface water to depths of 400 m or 500 m. Below 400 m the intrusion of the Mediterranean water (MW) can be observed by the relatively high salinities and temperatures and also the correspondingly low

    station number 70 71 72 73 74 75

    , , f f ,




    Fig. 3b. Section V. Distribution of silicate, nitrate an,

    s tat ion number 70 71 72 73 74 75

    , , , i i 3

    , l o

    ~:6 10

    s tat ion number 70 71 72 73 74 75

    I I t r ,

    2OO 0.5

    ~176 1 ~ ~


    nutrient values. This correlation between the distortion of the nutrient profiles in the Atlantic and the high salinities has already been analysed in some detail (Howe, Abdu l lah and Deetae [1974]). The fact that MW of ]ow nutrient content intrudes into the Atlantic water column at depths where the nutrient values are normally much greater, has provided an additional means of identifying its presence. In sections VI and VII (Figs. 4, 5) nearest the

  • 62 Deutsche :[-Iydrographische Zeitschrift, Jahrgang 29, 1976, Hef t 2

    station number 88 87 86 8> 8,4 e? 87 8! 80 79 7,8 7,7

    171 ~ ~35.8~

    4 0 0 " ~ B S Y ~ -

    5.6 ~ . . . .

    a: : . - ' : :5 ' - -



    12oo- Section ~ " ' "~k / 1~%~


    8- 2 0 0 q ~ 1 4 o ~ __

    I m ~ ~ X _ - - - l ~ . O ~ ~ 1 2 . 5 ~ 400 1 2 0 ~

    .......... ~ ~za2 'e .s~ 8oo- "~ ~'%-Y._-~.~-~--:~.5 ~ ~-~1~0~

    ,ooo8~176 ' . . . . . - " Temperature ~ " : ~ .

    1400. %"::: v4 :'~:~ ::: *"

    Fig. 4. Section VI. Distribution of salinity and temperature

    Straits, there is a continuous layer of MW on the slope extending from about 450 m to 1300 m whereas, in sections IV and V (Figs. 2, 3), the MW has separated into discrete upper and lower cores. Although the salinities are comparable, in all the sections the temperature in the MW above 900 m is consistently about 1 ~ greater than in that below 900 m. There is some indica- t ion of an offshore spreading of both cores in section V but at any depth the greatest values of T and S, together with the lowest nutr ient concentrations, are observed inshore against the cont inental slope. This suggests a preferred flow path from the Straits to the north west, following the contours of the continental slope towards Cabo S~o Vieente.

    Although there is very l i tt le homogeneity in the distr ibut ion of the propert ies in these sections, there are several features which deserve part icular attent ion. In making this more detai led comparison between various water masses at different depths we shall therefore more correctly use the appropr iate values of potent ia l temperature O, and density G o. In section V I I an 'anomalous' mass of MW was observed at the bot tom of stns. 92 (S = 36.88 ~ O = 12.95~ ao = 27.88) and 93 (S = 36.80~ O = 12.71~ (r o = 27.86). The high salinities have produced densities at a depth of about 870 m which are more typ ica l ly observed offshore at 1200 m, as in stn. 98 (S = 36.52 ~ O = 11.63 ~ ao = 27.86). I t is interest ing to speculate on the u l t imate fate of this water. F i rs t ly the cont inuity of the MW down the slope, with its correspondingly high density, would make it difficult for this upper core to sink and displace the water beneath it. Secondly, although no chemical sample was taken in the actual core at a depth of 870 m, the sal in i ty-nutr ient relat ionship at 800 m in stn. 92, together with that at the nearby stns. 91 (600 m) and 95 (800 m) has been shown (Howe, Abdu l lah and Deetae [1974]) to be closely correlated with the sal in i ty-nutr ient charac- terist ics of the upper core of lV[W which was observed in the other sections further to the west. Is it more l ikely then that this upper MW, being so anomously high in sal inity, but unable

  • Ambar et al., Mediterranean Outflow in ~he Gulf of Cadiz 63

    to sink immediately to a more appropriate density level, will lose salt more rapidly than heat due to the ambient conditions at this depth ? Accordingly, does it therefore adjust to values such as those at 780 m in stn. 83 (S = 36.66 ~ 0 = 12.91 ~ av = 27.71) and, consequently, stabilise at the density level at which the discrete upper core of MW is normally observed (section V) ?

    This upper core is easily identifiable in sections IV and V where it is notable for its relatively high temperature, with such values as O : 13.54 ~ (S = 36.54 ~ ~o = 27.49, D = 636 m) at stn. 66 and similarly at stn. 71 (O = 13.48 ~ S = 36.52 ~ ao = 27.49, D - 793 m). The identification is also facil itated by the presence, as explained above, of low nutrient concentrations between 600 and 800 m. In contrast the lower core in these sections was more saline with the greatest values at stn. 63 (S = 36.64 ~ O = 12.78 ~ av = 27.73, D = 1000 m) and stn. 73 (S = 36.59 ~ O = 12.09 ~ ao = 27.82, D = 1270 m).

    stotion number 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98 99 100

    .~36.2~ 2OOrn ~ ~ ' ~s6~

    3 5 8 ~ 600 "::.'.::....... 66 3 9 . 6 ~

    ":;.. 6-8 36.3 1000

    1200 SectionZZ ~" .~\ Salin,ty %~ "'::~\

    "::.. 360 ~ 1400 "::~:5.8--

    / 200{~>._ ~ 14.o

    4oot : : % ~ ~ ~ ~-~ . o ~

    800 ::"~k-f-'-12~

    "".'... \~ \ r ~-

    Tempe roture ~ ~":'~} / ~10.5 "-:. 10.0

    ~4oo : :~/~ - ~ ~

    Fig. 5a. Section VII. Distribution of salinity and temperature

    3. O-S diagram

    There is some indication from the general distribution of the water mass characteristics ~hat there could be a significant difference in the mixing rate of the upper and lower cores of the MW, with the depletion of salt and heat being dependent on the ambient conditions at each level. An attempt to quantify this was made by applying to the O-S diagrams the graphic method of the "triangle of mixing" and thereby estimating the percentage of different water masses that were present (Mamayev [1975]). The construction of such a triangle is determined by the choice of the thermohaline indices (O, S) to represent the original water masses. Since

  • 64 Deutsche Hydrographisehe Zeitsehrift, Jahrgang 29, 1976, Heft 2

    previous evidence (1974), based on the temperature values and the salinity-nutrient relation- ship, suggests a separate source of MW for the upper core, two triangles of mixing were constructed and applied to the MW either above 900 m (Mu) or below 900 m (ML).

    M u t r iang le It has been concluded that the M u water originates from a depth of about 135 m in the

    Mediterranean, passes through the Straits with little mixing, and then sinks to 600 to 800 m in the Atlantic. This result, together with that obtained by constructing the triangles of


    s to t ion numbe#

    89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 97 98

    . . . . 2.5 200 " - - . . - - l~5 m ?!~

    - - - z5 600 ' ---8,5

    5.5 - -40 .5 800




    s ta t ion number

    2(70m ~ ) ! 40o

    _~ 600 800 ~0


    120o 1400

    station number 89 90 91 92 93 94 95 96 ~7 9B

    I I , i I I I i I - ' _ _ _ _03

    -435 200- - 43.7

    1400 Sect ion ALLL ~2~

    5b. Section VII. Distribution of silicate, nitrate and phosphate

    mixing around the upper core by projecting the tangents on the O-S diagrams to intersect at a likely source (S tockman [1946]), indicate a reasonable value for the M u index of O = 14.00 ~ S = 37.42 ~ o. The mixing with the Atlantic central water will then occur between depths of 200 and 900 m for which there is well documented O-S data (e.g. Fug- l is ter [1960]) to support these present observations. The M, index was therefore combined with values of 14.90~ 36.13 ~ 0 and 8.40 ~ 35.00 ~ D respectively, to construct a mixing triangle which was applied to the M u core (Fig. 6) for depths less than 900 m at each station.

    M L t r iang le This mixing triangle was similarly constructed by firstly estimating a reasonable index

    value for M L as it leaves the Straits and sinks into the Atlantic. It is accepted that the virtually continuous main outflow will be subjected to varying amounts of tidal or other mixing in the Straits. Our T, S measurements of 13.20 ~ and 38.20 ~ for the source of this outflow, as it leaves the Mediterranean itself and enters the Straits between depths of 200 to 300 m, are similar to those used by Zenk [1970]. These values will alter during its passage through the Straits and the subsequent descent of the continental slope. When the outflow attains

  • Ambar et al., Med i te r ranean Out f low in the Gu l f of Cadiz 65





    T 12- 11-


    9 -

    8 -

    salinity 358 35.4 35.6 362 38.8 37 0 ~o 394


    61 "/o MU MU


    Fig. 6. O-S diagram for stn. 82 with the mixing triangle applied to the upper core. At 780 m this contained a mixture of Atlantic water and 61% of the original Mediterranean outflow Mu

    a depth of aboat 600 m, this level might then be reasonably regarded as the commencement of the downward intrusion of the MW into the actual Atlantic water column. An analysis of our data by means of the tangential projections on the O-S diagrams provides a reasonable value for the M L index of 13.00 ~ 37.00 ~ and this is in close agreement with that used by P ingree [1972]. A mixing triangle which therefore included the appropriate indices for 600 m (10.80 ~ 35.47 ~ and 1500 m (5A0 ~ 35.18 ~ was constructed and applied to the MW core below 900 m at each station (Fig. 7).



    salinity ) ~.4 3~,8 ~2 316 ~ 3~,o

    r ~ /

    5oom / / eoor~ ~ ML


    Fig. 7. O-S diagram for stn. 73 w i th the mix ing tr iangle appl ied to the lower core. AV 1310 m this contained a mixture of At lant ic water and 75 % of the original Mediterranean outf low ML

    Percentage of lV[W The percentages of M, and M L in the Atlantic water column were determined at each

    stn. from the respective mixing triangles and the isolines for the % values are represented in Figs. 8 to 11. It should be realised that in these sections the % isolines above 900 m cannot be related to those below 900 m since different water masses are involved.

  • 66 Deutsche Hydrographisehe Zeitsehrift, Jahrgang 29, 1976, Heft 2

    In section VII, wh ich is nearest the source of the outflow, the max imum values for the M,' concentration of about 70 ~o at the bot tom of stns. 92 and 93 are similar to those for M L between i000 and 1200 m further offshore (stns. 97, 98). In section VI, however, M u just attains a value of 60 ~/o, whereas 1V~ L achieves an 80 % concentration. Similarly in secs V

    station number 89 68 67 66 65 64 63 62 61 60 59

    9 200~


    "'::'" 30 Mu "= 8+- o

    . . . . . - : -



    1400 -

    Fig. 8. Section IV. Percentage of the original MW outflow in the upper core Mu and the lower core M~

    and IV the maximum for M u and M L was 54 % and 75 % respectively. So apparently in the region between these sections there can be a depletion in the concentration of the upper core from about 70 to 50 % whereas M L would appear to remain fairly constant at about 75 % of its original outflow value.

    station number

    70 711 721 73, 74 75 76

    200 [

    400 " i i :

    = \: ~----'------40 M \ ~ MU

    8~176 if:) ~5o

    -i ~e ML

    ::!1 j,o

    Fig. 9. Section V. Percentage of the original MW outf low in the upper core Mu and the lower core IFIL

  • Ambar et al., Mediterranean Outf low in the Gulf of Cadiz 67

    4. Conclusions

    (a) There is no convincing evidence to indicate that the canyons are affecting unduly the flow of the MW. The T, S and nutr ient distr ibut ion suggests a re lat ively strong Coriolis effect which restr icts the cores to the slope in sections V I I and VI, with some apparent offshore spreading in sections V and IV. There was a general decrease of the T and S in the offshore direction at whatever depth the MW is considered, which indicates a preferred flow path along the contours of the cont inental slope towards the northwest. This is in general agreement with Made la in ' s [1970] representat ion.

    station number 88 87 86 85 84 83 82 81 80 79 78 77



    e BOO-


    140( -.'.:::::.." "

    Fig. 10. Section VI. Percentage of the original MW outflow in the upper core Mu and the lower core ML

    (b) The upper core M u was characterised by a consistently greater temperature than that of M L by about 1 ~ and also particularly low nutrient concentrations. There was little change in the temperature values of either core between sections, or indeed of the salinity of M L.

    station number

    89 910 9~ 921 931 941 95 961 97 98, 991 100r





    J" 1000-



    "::... 5o

    9 ::2. 50 Mu

    Sect ion~ / MW %"

    "'.'.'0, 70 60 50 /

    Fig. 11. Section VII . Percentage of the original MW outflow in the upper core Mu and the lower core ML

    (c) The most significant var iat ion seems to occur in the sal in i ty of Mu, which can result in a 20 % difference in the concentrat ion of this core as it proceeds around the Gulf of Cadiz. Consequent ly there will be a corresponding decrease in the a o value of M, f rom 27.88 (at 860 m in section VI I ) to 27.71 (780 m in section VI) to 27.66 (830 m in section V). This appears to ensure the relative stability of M u and its permanent presence at this depth, not only in 5

  • 68 Deutsche Hydrographisehe Zeitsehrift, Jahrgang 29, 1976, Heft 2

    the Gulf of Cadiz, but also in the region to the west of Cabo Sgo Vicente (Zenk [1970] ; Howe and Ta i t [1972]).

    (d) The canyons however do seem to contribute to the offshore spreading and sinking of the shelf water after the winter cooling (Figs. 3a, 5a). A tongue of downwelled water, which is identifiable in Fig. 7 by a O-S maximum (12.92 ~ 35.95 ~ at 500 m, also includes values of 13.43 ~ 36.07 ~ at 440 m in stn. 72 and 13.71 ~ 36.11 ~ at 300 m in stn. 71. Similarly in stations 90, 91 (section VII) there are values of 13.58 ~ 36.07 ~ o at 400 m whereas a short distance offshore the values at this depth are more typical ly 12.19 ~ 35.68 ~ o.


    During the cruise the generous co-operation of the Officers and Crew of the R.t~.S. "Shackleton" was appreciated. We are also grateful for the skills of A. Woodhouse and S. Deetae who processed the physical and chemical data. This work is being supported by N.E.R.C. Grant GR3/2643 and I.A. is the holder of a N.A.T.O. research scholarship.


    Boyce, F.M., 1975: Internal waves in the Straits of Gibraltar. Deep-Sea l~es. 22, 597-610.

    Crepon, M., 1965: Influence de la pression atmosph~rique sur le niveau moyen de la M6diterran6e occidentale et sur le flux travers le D6troit de Gibraltar. Cab. Oc6anogr. 17, 15 32.

    Defant , A., 1961: Physical oceanography. Vol. 1. Oxford.

    Fug l i s te r , F.C., 1960: Atlantic Ocean Atlas of temperature and salinity profiles and data from the International Geophysical Year of 1957/58. Woods Hole Oeeanogr. Instn Atlas Series. 1.

    Howe, M. 1~. and 1~. I. Ta i t , 1972: The role of temperature inversions in the mixing pro- cesses of the deep ocean. Deep-Sea !~es. 19, 781-791.

    Howe, M. I~.,M. I. Abdu l lah and S. Deetae , 1974: An interpretation of the double T-S maxima in the Mediterranean outflow using chemical tracers. J. mar. l~es. 32, 377-386.

    Lacombe, H., 1961 : Contribution l'6tude du r6gime du D6troit de Gibraltar. I, Etude dynamique. Cah. Oc6anogr. 13, 73-107.

    Made la in , F., 1970: Influence de la topogra- phic du fond sur l'6eoulement Mediterran6an entre le D6troit de Gibraltar et le Cap Saint- Vincent. Cah. Oe6anogr. 22, 43-61.

    Mamayev , O.I. , 1975. Temperature-salinity analysis of world ocean waters. Elsevier Oceanography Series. 11.

    P ingree , I~.D., 1972: Mixing in the deep stratified ocean. Deep-Sea Res. 19, 549-561.

    Sehot t , G., 1928: Die Wasserbewegungen im Gebiete der Gibraltarstrage. J. Cons. perm. int. Explor. Mer. 8, 139-175.

    S tockman, W.B., 1946: A theory of T-S curves as a method for studying the mixing of water masses in the sea. J. mar. Res. 6, 1-24.

    Zenk, ~r 1970: On the temperature and salinity structure of the Mediterranean water in the Northeast Atlantic. Deep-Sea l~es. 17, 627-631.

    Eingegangen im Mai 1976

    Ansehrift der Verfasser: I. Ambar, M. 1~. Howe, Department of Oceanography, University of Liverpool, P.O. Box 147, Liverpool L 69 3 BX, England M. I. Abdullah, Institute of Marine Biology and Limnology, University of 0slo, P.O. Box 1064, Blindern, Oslo, Norway


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