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A Simple Criterion to Determine the Transition from a Localized Convection to a Distributed Convection Regime

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

A recent numerical study by Noh et al. of open-ocean deep convection in the presence of a single geostrophic eddy showed that two possible regimes exist: 1) the localized convection regime in which baroclinic instability of the eddy dominates, with slantwise fluxes and restratification, and 2) the distributed convection regime in which vertical mixing dominates. Noh et al. found that localized convection dominates for relatively small buoyancy forcing, strong eddies, and strong surface ambient stratification. Here it is shown that this regime transition can be expressed in terms of a ratio of time scales: the localized convection regime appears when the time scale for lateral fluxes from eddy interior to exterior tL is short in comparison with the time scale for convective erosion of the exterior stratification tc. Scaling arguments give this ratio of time scales as tL/tcf β2R2B/(A2γ) where f is the Coriolis parameter, R is the radius of the eddy, B is the buoyancy forcing, 1/β is the depth scale of the exponentially decaying surface-intensified stratification, γ is the relative amplitude of the eddy, and is the value of the surface stratification N20. Comparison with the numerical simulations of Noh et al. shows that this parameter does indeed separate the localized and distributed convection regimes, with the transition occurring at tL/tc ≈ 0.05–0.1.

Corresponding author address: Sonya Legg, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MS21, 360 Woods Hole Rd., Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: slegg@whoi.edu

Abstract

A recent numerical study by Noh et al. of open-ocean deep convection in the presence of a single geostrophic eddy showed that two possible regimes exist: 1) the localized convection regime in which baroclinic instability of the eddy dominates, with slantwise fluxes and restratification, and 2) the distributed convection regime in which vertical mixing dominates. Noh et al. found that localized convection dominates for relatively small buoyancy forcing, strong eddies, and strong surface ambient stratification. Here it is shown that this regime transition can be expressed in terms of a ratio of time scales: the localized convection regime appears when the time scale for lateral fluxes from eddy interior to exterior tL is short in comparison with the time scale for convective erosion of the exterior stratification tc. Scaling arguments give this ratio of time scales as tL/tcf β2R2B/(A2γ) where f is the Coriolis parameter, R is the radius of the eddy, B is the buoyancy forcing, 1/β is the depth scale of the exponentially decaying surface-intensified stratification, γ is the relative amplitude of the eddy, and is the value of the surface stratification N20. Comparison with the numerical simulations of Noh et al. shows that this parameter does indeed separate the localized and distributed convection regimes, with the transition occurring at tL/tc ≈ 0.05–0.1.

Corresponding author address: Sonya Legg, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, MS21, 360 Woods Hole Rd., Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: slegg@whoi.edu

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