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On the vertical structure and propagation of marine heatwaves in the Eastern Pacific
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  • Eike Eduard Köhn,
  • Meike Vogt,
  • Matthias Münnich,
  • Nicolas Gruber
Eike Eduard Köhn
ETH Zürich

Corresponding Author:eike.koehn@usys.ethz.ch

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Meike Vogt
ETH Zuerich
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Matthias Münnich
ETH Zürich
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Nicolas Gruber
ETH Zürich
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Marine heatwaves (MHWs) have been recognized as a serious threat to marine life, yet, most studies so far have focused on the surface only. Here, we investigate the vertical dimension and propagation of surface MHWs in the Eastern Pacific using results from a high-resolution hindcast simulation (1979 to 2019), performed with the Regional Ocean Modeling System. We detect MHWs using a seasonally varying percentile threshold on a fixed baseline and track their vertical propagation across the upper 500 m. We find that nearly a third (∼ 29 %) of the MHWs extend beyond the surface mixed layer depth (MLD). On average, these deep-reaching MHWs (dMHWs) extend to 110 m below the MLD and last five times longer than MHWs that are confined to the mixed layer (184 vs. 36 days). The dMHWs can cause stronger temperature anomalies at depth than at the surface (maximum intensity of 5.0°C vs. 1.9°C). This general subsurface MHW intensification even holds when scaling the temperatures with the respective local variability. A clustering of dMHWs reveals that 41 % of them are block-like, i.e., continually remain in contact with the sea surface, 24 % propagate downward, 20 % propagate upward, while 15 % appear at the surface multiple times. Although the water column MHW duration, intensity and severity are only moderately correlated with their corresponding surface-based MHW characteristics, dMHWs have the potential to be detected from the surface. Our study can help to augment the remote sensing-based monitoring of upper ocean exposure to MHWs.
26 May 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
01 Jun 2023Published in ESS Open Archive