Formation and spreading of Red Sea Outflow Water in the Red Sea

Ping Zhai, Amy S. Bower, William M. Smethie, Larry J. Pratt

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

21 Scopus citations


Hydrographic data, chlorofluorocarbon-12 (CFC-12) and sulfur hexafluoride (SF6) measurements collected in March 2010 and September-October 2011 in the Red Sea, as well as an idealized numerical experiment are used to study the formation and spreading of Red Sea Outflow Water (RSOW) in the Red Sea. Analysis of inert tracers, potential vorticity distributions, and model results confirm that RSOW is formed through mixed-layer deepening caused by sea surface buoyancy loss in winter in the northern Red Sea and reveal more details on RSOW spreading rates, pathways, and vertical structure. The southward spreading of RSOW after its formation is identified as a layer with minimum potential vorticity and maximum CFC-12 and SF6. Ventilation ages of seawater within the RSOW layer, calculated from the partial pressure of SF6 (pSF6), range from 2 years in the northern Red Sea to 15 years at 17N. The distribution of the tracer ages is in agreement with the model circulation field which shows a rapid transport of RSOW from its formation region to the southern Red Sea where there are longer circulation pathways and hence longer residence time due to basin wide eddies. The mean residence time of RSOW within the Red Sea estimated from the pSF6 age is 4.7 years. This time scale is very close to the mean transit time (4.8 years) for particles from the RSOW formation region to reach the exit at the Strait of Bab el Mandeb in the numerical experiment.
Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)6542-6563
Number of pages22
Issue number9
StatePublished - 2015
Externally publishedYes


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