This paper presents a detailed diagnostic analysis of hydrographic and current meter data from three, rapidly repeated, fine-scale surveys of the Almeria–Oran front. Instability of the frontal boundary, between surface waters of Atlantic and Mediterranean origin, is shown to provide a mechanism for significant heat transfer from the surface layers to the deep ocean in winter. The data were collected during the second observational phase of the EU funded OMEGA project on RRS Discovery cruise 224 during December 1996. High resolution hydrographic measurements using the towed undulating CTD vehicle, SeaSoar, traced the subduction of Mediterranean Surface Water across the Almeria–Oran front. This subduction is shown to result from a significant baroclinic component to the instability of the frontal jet. The Q-vector formulation of the omega equation is combined with a scale analysis to quantitatively diagnose vertical transport resulting from mesoscale ageostrophic circulation. The analyses are presented and discussed in the presence of satellite and airborne remotely sensed data; which provide the basis for a thorough and novel approach to the determination of observational error
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