Satellite-Derived Variability of Sea Surface Salinity and Geostrophic Currents off Western Patagonia

Resumen: The coastal ocean off western Patagonia is one of the main coastal regions with high freshwater inputs from rivers, rain, and glaciers in the Southern Hemisphere. This study conducts an analysis of the seasonal and interannual variations in sea surface salinity and meridional geostrophic transports, specifically focusing on the Cape Horn Current, using improved satellite-derived data of sea surface salinity (SSS) and geostrophic velocities spanning an ∼11-year period (September 2011–August 2022). Our results reveal a clear salinity minimum in a coastal band between 42–54°S associated with the highest freshwater content. The average geostrophic currents are stronger south of 49°S, in line with the location of the Cape Horn Current. The average salinity minimum tends to disappear south of 54°S, with salinity values increasing slightly southward. The seasonal cycle of salinity shows the most pronounced minimum in summer (∼33.2–33.4). The greatest variability in salinity (standard deviation of salinity fields) occurs in the southern region of the Cape Horn Current. Hovmöller plots reveal two cores of minimum salinity observed in spring and summer (∼33.3–33.4). The freshwater off the Gulf of Penas contributes to the northern core. The meridional geostrophic transport differs between the northern and southern sections, with transports predominantly towards the Equator (Pole) north (south) of about 47–48°S during spring–summer. There is a marked seasonal variability in the magnitude and northern limit of the southward-flowing Cape Horn Current, being extended further north during winter and with a maximum average magnitude during summer–fall (about 2×104 m2 s−1). On the interannual scale, a major drop in surface salinity occurred off northern and central Patagonia during 2018–2019. Finally, a potential long-term freshening trend is observed in the coastal area off southern Patagonia (south of 52°S), although prolonged data records are essential to confirm this pattern.

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