An Assessment of Orthobaric Density in the Global Ocean

Trevor J. McDougall CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, Australia

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David R. Jackett CSIRO Marine Research, Hobart, Australia

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Abstract

Orthobaric density has recently been advanced as a new density variable for displaying ocean data and as a coordinate for ocean modeling. Here the extent to which orthobaric density surfaces are neutral is quantified and it is found that orthobaric density surfaces are less neutral in the World Ocean than are potential density surfaces referenced to 2000 dbar. Another property that is important for a vertical coordinate of a layered model is the quasi-material nature of the coordinate and it is shown that orthobaric density surfaces are significantly non-quasi-material. These limitations of orthobaric density arise because of its inability to accurately accommodate differences between water masses at fixed values of pressure and in situ density such as occur between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere portions of the World Ocean. It is shown that special forms of orthobaric density can be quite accurate if they are formed for an individual ocean basin and used only in that basin. While orthobaric density can be made to be approximately neutral in a single ocean basin, this is not possible in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere portions of the Atlantic Ocean. While the helical nature of neutral trajectories (equivalently, the ill-defined nature of neutral surfaces) limits the neutrality of all types of density surface, the inability of orthobaric density surfaces to accurately accommodate more than one ocean basin is a much greater limitation.

Corresponding author address: Trevor McDougall, CSIRO Marine Research, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia. Email: trevor.mcdougall@csiro.au

Abstract

Orthobaric density has recently been advanced as a new density variable for displaying ocean data and as a coordinate for ocean modeling. Here the extent to which orthobaric density surfaces are neutral is quantified and it is found that orthobaric density surfaces are less neutral in the World Ocean than are potential density surfaces referenced to 2000 dbar. Another property that is important for a vertical coordinate of a layered model is the quasi-material nature of the coordinate and it is shown that orthobaric density surfaces are significantly non-quasi-material. These limitations of orthobaric density arise because of its inability to accurately accommodate differences between water masses at fixed values of pressure and in situ density such as occur between the Northern and Southern Hemisphere portions of the World Ocean. It is shown that special forms of orthobaric density can be quite accurate if they are formed for an individual ocean basin and used only in that basin. While orthobaric density can be made to be approximately neutral in a single ocean basin, this is not possible in both the Northern and Southern Hemisphere portions of the Atlantic Ocean. While the helical nature of neutral trajectories (equivalently, the ill-defined nature of neutral surfaces) limits the neutrality of all types of density surface, the inability of orthobaric density surfaces to accurately accommodate more than one ocean basin is a much greater limitation.

Corresponding author address: Trevor McDougall, CSIRO Marine Research, Castray Esplanade, Hobart, TAS 7001, Australia. Email: trevor.mcdougall@csiro.au

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