Wyville Thomson Ridge Overflow Water: Spatial and temporal distribution in the Rockall Trough

Clare Johnson, Toby Sherwin, Denise Smythe-Wright, Tracy Shimmield, William Turrell

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Wyville Thomson Ridge Overflow Water (WTOW), which is the only part of the outflow from the Norwegian Sea not to directly enter the Iceland Basin, is shown to be a significant water mass in the northern Rockall Trough. It is found primarily at intermediate depths (600-1200 m) beneath the northward flowing warm Atlantic waters, and above recirculating Mediterranean influenced waters and Labrador Sea Water (LSW). The bottom of the WTOW layer can be identified by a mid-depth inflexion point in potential temperature-salinity plots. An analysis of historical data reveals that WTOW has been present in all but eight of the last 31 years at 57.5 °N in the Rockall Trough. A denser component of WTOW below 1500 m has also been present, although it appears to be less persistent (12 out of the 31 years) and limited to the west of the section. The signature of intermediate WTOW was absent in two periods, the mid 1980s and early 1990s, both of which coincided with a freshening, and probable increase in volume, of LSW in the trough. Potential temperature-salinity diagrams from historical observations indicate that WTOW persists at least as far south as 55 °N (and as far west as 20 °W in the Iceland Basin) although its signature is quickly lost on leaving the Rockall Trough. We suggest that a transport of WTOW down the western side of the trough exists, with WTOW at intermediate depths entering the eastern trough either via a cyclonic recirculation, or as a result of eddy activity. Further, WTOW is seen on the Rockall-Hatton Plateau and in the deep channels connecting with the Iceland Basin, suggesting additional possible WTOW transport pathways. These suggested transport routes remain to be confirmed by further observational or modelling studies.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1153-1162
Issue number10
Early online date11 Jul 2010
Publication statusPublished - Oct 2010


  • Rockall Trough
  • Wyville Thomson Ridge
  • Greenland-Scotland Ridge
  • intermediate water mass


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