A preliminary investigation of basin water response to climate forcing in a Scottish fjord: evaluating the influence of the NAO

PA Gillibrand, AG Cage, William Edward Newns Austin

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The sea lochs (fjords) of NW Scotland bridge the land-ocean interface in a region of Europe which is particularly well situated to monitor changes in westerly air streams. Inter-annual atmospheric circulation changes at this latitude are largely governed by the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO). Comparing two recent extreme NAO years, a two-dimensional model of Loch Sunart, NW Scotland, is used to examine the potential effects of climate oscillations on the magnitude and frequency of deep-water renewal events and the resulting water properties in the fjord basins. In the upper basin of the fjord, meteorological forcing during the high NAO index year (1988-89) resulted in less-frequent deep-water renewal, greater variability in basin salinity and a lower annual-mean salinity (by 0.52) than that predicted for the low NAO index year (1995-96). In the main basin, variations in meteorological forcing had much less effect on basin water properties. In both basins, predicted deep water inflow was significantly greater during the negative phase NAO, with annual inflow to the upper and main basins being respectively 50% and 300% greater during 1995-96 relative to 1988-99. Through a sensitivity analysis, the NAO is shown to affect upper basin water properties through the influence of low-frequency anomalies in the meteorological forcing, particularly the enhanced westerly wind stress associated with positive phases, which inhibits deep water renewal over the winter months. The salinity of the main and upper basins respond differently to the boundary forcing due to differential tidal mixing above the respectively sub- and super-critical entrance sills. Predictions of basin water isotope ratios are made by applying the salinity: delta O-18(water) mixing line for the region to the salinity results; the combination of the weak dependence of delta O-18(water) on salinity and the stable salinity predicted for the main basin suggests that some fjord basins may provide ideal sites for palaeotemperature studies. (c) 2004 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)571-587
Number of pages17
JournalContinental Shelf Research
Publication statusPublished - Mar 2005


  • Scottish sea loch
  • NAO
  • basin water salinity
  • oxygen isotopes
  • numerical model
  • DEEP
  • LOCH


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