Chafik Research Sheds Light on Lofoten Vortex

By Maeve Dunigan

The Lofoten Basin located in the Nordic Seas is home to a large mass of whirling fluid known as “The Lofoten Vortex.”   Commonly referred to as an “eddy,” the Lofoten Vortex is of particular interest to researchers due to its permanency and long-term stability.

Dr. Léon Chafik, a research associate at the University of Maryland Earth System Science Interdisciplinary Center (ESSIC), was part of a recent collaborative study that documented the vortex through the use of both hydrography–science that measures and describes the physical features of bodies of water–and satellite observations.

Study results suggest that the vortex has existed in the deepest part of the Lofoten Basin persistently.  The research also provided new insight into the ways in which the vortex influences the hydrography of the basin itself, which is the largest reservoir of ocean heat in the Nordic Seas.

“We think that the Lofoten vortex is a permanent feature of the Nordic Seas and its circulation,” Chafik wrote in an email. The researcher wrote that the vortex has likely existed for millennia “as long as the shelf slope has been very steep.”

This slope “is what leads to the frequent generation of eddies or vortices that move into the deeper parts of the Lofoten Basin,” Chafik wrote.

Chafik was drawn to the Lofoten Eddy because of its uniqueness and demonstration of long-term stability.

“It is different from ocean weather eddies that form and simply dissipate,” he wrote.

Research on the eddy remains ongoing, as scientists seek further understanding about the vortex and its role in the circulation of the Nordic Seas.

“There are many questions we still need to investigate about this eddy, wrote Chafik, specifically its contribution to the global thermohaline circulation.”

Chafik furthered that technical advances should help to shed new light on the phenomena.

“Future high-resolution satellite altimetry in combination with hydrography will likely help to understand the rich small-scale dynamics governing the Lofoten Basin and its permanent vortex,” wrote Chafik.

An image from the study was recently selected by the Archiving, Validation and Interpretation of Satellite Oceanographic Data (AVISO) reference portal as its June 2016 image of the month. The image revealed monthly averages of absolute dynamic topographyin the Lofoten Basin.

Absolute dynamic topography involves adding sea level anomalies from satellite data to the time-invariant ocean circulation or mean dynamic topography. These averages demonstrated that the core of the eddy remains stable.