The Effects of Mesoscale Eddies on the Main Subtropical Thermocline

Cara C. Henning Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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Geoffrey K. Vallis Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton University, Princeton, New Jersey

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Abstract

The effects of mesoscale eddies on the main subtropical thermocline are explored using a simply configured wind- and buoyancy-driven primitive equation numerical model in conjunction with transformed Eulerian mean diagnostics and simple scaling ideas and closure schemes. If eddies are suppressed by a modest but nonnegligible horizontal diffusion and vertical diffusion is kept realistically small, the model thermocline exhibits a familiar two-regime structure with an upper, advectively dominated ventilated thermocline and a lower, advective– diffusive internal thermocline, and together these compose the main thermocline. If the horizontal resolution is sufficiently high and the horizontal diffusivity is sufficiently low, then a vigorous mesoscale eddy field emerges. In the mixed layer and upper-mode-water regions, the divergent eddy fluxes are manifestly across isopycnals and so have a diabatic effect. Beneath the mixed layer, the mean structure of the upper (i.e., ventilated) thermocline is still found to be dominated by mean advective terms, except in the “mode water” region and close to the western boundary current. The eddies are particularly strong in the mode-water region, and the low-potential-vorticity pool of the noneddying case is partially eroded away as the eddies try to flatten the isopycnals and reduce available potential energy. The intensity of the eddies decays with depth more slowly than does the mean flow, leading to a three-way balance among eddy flux convergence, mean flow advection, and diffusion in the internal thermocline. Eddies subduct water along isopycnals from the surface into the internal thermocline, replenishing its water masses and maintaining its thickness. Just as in the noneddying case, the dynamics of the internal thermocline can be usefully expressed as an advective–diffusive balance, but where advection is now by the residual (eddy-induced plus Eulerian mean) circulation. The eddy-induced advection partially balances the mean upwelling through the base of the thermocline, and this leads to a slightly thicker thermocline than in the noneddying case. The results suggest that as the diffusivity goes to zero, the residual circulation will go to zero but the thickness of the internal thermocline may remain finite, provided eddy activity persists.

Corresponding author address: Geoffrey K. Vallis, Princeton University, AOS Program, Sayre Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: gkv@princeton.edu

Abstract

The effects of mesoscale eddies on the main subtropical thermocline are explored using a simply configured wind- and buoyancy-driven primitive equation numerical model in conjunction with transformed Eulerian mean diagnostics and simple scaling ideas and closure schemes. If eddies are suppressed by a modest but nonnegligible horizontal diffusion and vertical diffusion is kept realistically small, the model thermocline exhibits a familiar two-regime structure with an upper, advectively dominated ventilated thermocline and a lower, advective– diffusive internal thermocline, and together these compose the main thermocline. If the horizontal resolution is sufficiently high and the horizontal diffusivity is sufficiently low, then a vigorous mesoscale eddy field emerges. In the mixed layer and upper-mode-water regions, the divergent eddy fluxes are manifestly across isopycnals and so have a diabatic effect. Beneath the mixed layer, the mean structure of the upper (i.e., ventilated) thermocline is still found to be dominated by mean advective terms, except in the “mode water” region and close to the western boundary current. The eddies are particularly strong in the mode-water region, and the low-potential-vorticity pool of the noneddying case is partially eroded away as the eddies try to flatten the isopycnals and reduce available potential energy. The intensity of the eddies decays with depth more slowly than does the mean flow, leading to a three-way balance among eddy flux convergence, mean flow advection, and diffusion in the internal thermocline. Eddies subduct water along isopycnals from the surface into the internal thermocline, replenishing its water masses and maintaining its thickness. Just as in the noneddying case, the dynamics of the internal thermocline can be usefully expressed as an advective–diffusive balance, but where advection is now by the residual (eddy-induced plus Eulerian mean) circulation. The eddy-induced advection partially balances the mean upwelling through the base of the thermocline, and this leads to a slightly thicker thermocline than in the noneddying case. The results suggest that as the diffusivity goes to zero, the residual circulation will go to zero but the thickness of the internal thermocline may remain finite, provided eddy activity persists.

Corresponding author address: Geoffrey K. Vallis, Princeton University, AOS Program, Sayre Hall, Princeton, NJ 08544. Email: gkv@princeton.edu

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