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Midlatitude Wind Stress–Sea Surface Temperature Coupling in the Vicinity of Oceanic Fronts

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  • 1 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The influences of strong gradients in sea surface temperature on near-surface cross-front winds are explored in a series of idealized numerical modeling experiments. The atmospheric model is the Naval Research Laboratory Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) model, which is fully coupled to the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) ocean model. A series of idealized, two-dimensional model calculations is carried out in which the wind blows from the warm-to-cold side or the cold-to-warm side of an initially prescribed ocean front. The evolution of the near-surface winds, boundary layer, and thermal structure is described, and the balances in the momentum equation are diagnosed. The changes in surface winds across the front are consistent with previous models and observations, showing a strong positive correlation with the sea surface temperature and boundary layer thickness. The coupling arises mainly as a result of changes in the flux Richardson number across the front, and the strength of the coupling coefficient grows quadratically with the strength of the cross-front geostrophic wind. The acceleration of the winds over warm water results primarily from the rapid change in turbulent mixing and the resulting unbalanced Coriolis force in the vicinity of the front. Much of the loss/gain of momentum perpendicular to the front in the upper and lower boundary layer results from acceleration/deceleration of the flow parallel to the front via the Coriolis term. This mechanism is different from the previously suggested processes of downward mixing of momentum and adjustment to the horizontal pressure gradient, and is active for flows off the equator with sufficiently strong winds. Although the main focus of this work is on the midlatitude, strong wind regime, calculations at low latitudes and with weak winds show that the pressure gradient and turbulent mixing terms dominate the cross-front momentum budget, consistent with previous work.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Spall, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MS #21, 360 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: mspall@whoi.edu

Abstract

The influences of strong gradients in sea surface temperature on near-surface cross-front winds are explored in a series of idealized numerical modeling experiments. The atmospheric model is the Naval Research Laboratory Coupled Ocean–Atmosphere Mesoscale Prediction System (COAMPS) model, which is fully coupled to the Regional Ocean Modeling System (ROMS) ocean model. A series of idealized, two-dimensional model calculations is carried out in which the wind blows from the warm-to-cold side or the cold-to-warm side of an initially prescribed ocean front. The evolution of the near-surface winds, boundary layer, and thermal structure is described, and the balances in the momentum equation are diagnosed. The changes in surface winds across the front are consistent with previous models and observations, showing a strong positive correlation with the sea surface temperature and boundary layer thickness. The coupling arises mainly as a result of changes in the flux Richardson number across the front, and the strength of the coupling coefficient grows quadratically with the strength of the cross-front geostrophic wind. The acceleration of the winds over warm water results primarily from the rapid change in turbulent mixing and the resulting unbalanced Coriolis force in the vicinity of the front. Much of the loss/gain of momentum perpendicular to the front in the upper and lower boundary layer results from acceleration/deceleration of the flow parallel to the front via the Coriolis term. This mechanism is different from the previously suggested processes of downward mixing of momentum and adjustment to the horizontal pressure gradient, and is active for flows off the equator with sufficiently strong winds. Although the main focus of this work is on the midlatitude, strong wind regime, calculations at low latitudes and with weak winds show that the pressure gradient and turbulent mixing terms dominate the cross-front momentum budget, consistent with previous work.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Spall, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute, MS #21, 360 Woods Hole Road, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: mspall@whoi.edu

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