Evidence for Kilometer-Scale Biophysical Features at the Gulf Stream Front

Patrick Clifton Gray, Ivan Savelyev, Nicolas Cassar, Marina Lévy, Emmanuel Boss, Yoav Lehahn, Guillaume Bourdin, Kate A. Thompson, Anna Windle, Jessica Gronniger, Sheri Floge, Dana E. Hunt, Greg Silsbe, Zackary I. Johnson, David W. Johnston

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Understanding the interplay of ocean physics and biology at the submesoscale and below (<30 km) is an ongoing challenge in oceanography. While poorly constrained, these scales may be of critical importance for understanding how changing ocean dynamics will impact marine ecosystems. Fronts in the ocean, regions where two disparate water masses meet and isopycnals become tilted toward vertical, are considered hotspots for biophysical interaction, but there is limited observational evidence at the appropriate scales to assess their importance. Fronts around western boundary currents like the Gulf Stream are of particular interest as these dynamic physical regions are thought to influence both productivity and composition of primary producers; however, how exactly this plays out is not well known. Using satellite data and 2 years of in situ observations across the Gulf Stream front near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, we investigate how submesoscale frontal dynamics could affect biological communities and generate hotspots of productivity and export. We assess the seasonality and phenology of the region, generalize the kilometer-scale structure of the front, and analyze 69 transects to assess two physical processes of potential biogeochemical importance: cold shelf filament subduction and high salinity Sargasso Sea obduction. We link these processes observationally to meanders in the Gulf Stream and discuss how cold filament subduction could be exporting carbon and how obduction of high salinity water from depth is connected with high chlorophyll-a. Finally, we report on phytoplankton community composition in each of these features and integrate these observations into our understanding of frontal submesoscale dynamics.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023JC020526
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

Publisher Copyright:
© 2024. American Geophysical Union. All Rights Reserved.


  • biophysical interaction
  • fronts
  • Gulf Stream
  • meanders
  • phytoplankton community
  • submesoscale

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geophysics
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)


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