In 1997, a unique hydrographic and chlorofluorocarbon (CFC: component CFC-11) dataset was obtained in the subpolar North Atlantic. To estimate the synopticity of the 1997 data, the recent temporal evolution of the CFC and Labrador Sea Water (LSW) thickness fields are examined. In the western Atlantic north of 50°N, the LSW thickness decreased considerably from 1994–97, while the mean CFC concentrations did not change much. South of 50°N and in the eastern Atlantic, the CFC concentration increased with little or no change in the LSW thickness. On shorter timescales, local anomalies due to the presence of eddies are observed, but for space scales larger than the eddies the dataset can be treated as being synoptic over the 1997 observation period.
The spreading of LSW in the subpolar North Atlantic is described in detail using gridded CFC and LSW thickness fields combined with Profiling Autonomous Lagrangian Circulation Explorer (PALACE) float trajectories. The gridded fields are also used to calculate the CFC-11 inventory in the LSW from 40° to 65°N, and from 10° to 60°W. In total, 2300 ± 250 tons of CFC-11 (equivalent to 16.6 million moles) were brought into the LSW by deep convection. In 1997, 28% of the inventory was still found in the Labrador Sea west of 45°W and 31% of the inventory was located in the eastern Atlantic.
The CFC inventory in the LSW was used to estimate the lower limits of LSW formation rates. At a constant formation rate, a value of 4.4–5.6 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) is obtained. If the denser modes of LSW are ventilated only in periods with intense convection, the minimum formation rate of LSW in 1988–94 is 8.1–10.8 Sv, and 1.8–2.4 Sv in 1995–97