Quantization of the Low-Frequency Variability of the Double-Gyre Circulation

Eric Simonnet Institut Non Linéaire de Nice, Valbonne, France

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Abstract

The low-frequency dynamics of the double-gyre wind-driven circulation in large midlatitude oceanic basins is investigated. It is shown that for quasigeostrophic models linear (Rayleigh) friction is necessary to obtain realistic recirculation gyres and elongated jet streams with small meridional-to-zonal aspect ratio. It is also found that the use of either no-slip or free-slip boundary conditions does not change the drastic effects of bottom drag on the large scales. These long oceanic jets are alternatively destabilized and restabilized through successive (subcritical) supercritical symmetry-breaking bifurcations that are linked to the (non) existence of stationary Rossby waves. These waves are strongly localized along the oceanic front and are thus hardly affected by the basin geometry. Numerical and analytical results show that these waves are “quantized” with respect to the length of the jet, and an explicit dispersion relation is given. Numerical computations of branches of steady states, together with linear and nonlinear analysis, indicate that two classes of regimes characterize the low-frequency dynamics of the flow. The first class corresponds to supercritical regimes, which are associated with oceanic jets that have been destabilized by undamped stationary Rossby waves. In particular, these regimes allow the formation of gyre modes responsible for low-frequency relaxation oscillations of the jet. The second class corresponds to subcritical regimes, which are either quiescent or dominated by high-frequency instabilities and are characterized by jets that do not allow the formation of both stationary Rossby waves and gyre modes. Each of these regimes is characterized by typical spatial and time scales that are both quantized. The number n of “bumps” of the jet, which is related to the zonal wavenumber of the stationary Rossby waves, is used to distinguish between these regimes either in their supercritical or subcritical phase. For instance, the supercritical n = 2 regime is associated with a class of interdecadal gyre modes that extend up to 3000 km in the zonal direction. The quantization of the low-frequency dynamics and the existence of these regimes are also found to survive severe modifications of the basin geometry. These quantized regimes suggest that the low-frequency dynamics in turbulent regimes is likely to be autosimilar to the low-frequency dynamics found in a weakly nonlinear “ground” regime corresponding to n = 0.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Eric Simonnet, Institut Non Linéaire de Nice (INLN), UMR 6618 CNRS, 1361 route des Lucioles, 06560 Valbonne, France. Email: eric.simonnet@inln.cnrs.fr

Abstract

The low-frequency dynamics of the double-gyre wind-driven circulation in large midlatitude oceanic basins is investigated. It is shown that for quasigeostrophic models linear (Rayleigh) friction is necessary to obtain realistic recirculation gyres and elongated jet streams with small meridional-to-zonal aspect ratio. It is also found that the use of either no-slip or free-slip boundary conditions does not change the drastic effects of bottom drag on the large scales. These long oceanic jets are alternatively destabilized and restabilized through successive (subcritical) supercritical symmetry-breaking bifurcations that are linked to the (non) existence of stationary Rossby waves. These waves are strongly localized along the oceanic front and are thus hardly affected by the basin geometry. Numerical and analytical results show that these waves are “quantized” with respect to the length of the jet, and an explicit dispersion relation is given. Numerical computations of branches of steady states, together with linear and nonlinear analysis, indicate that two classes of regimes characterize the low-frequency dynamics of the flow. The first class corresponds to supercritical regimes, which are associated with oceanic jets that have been destabilized by undamped stationary Rossby waves. In particular, these regimes allow the formation of gyre modes responsible for low-frequency relaxation oscillations of the jet. The second class corresponds to subcritical regimes, which are either quiescent or dominated by high-frequency instabilities and are characterized by jets that do not allow the formation of both stationary Rossby waves and gyre modes. Each of these regimes is characterized by typical spatial and time scales that are both quantized. The number n of “bumps” of the jet, which is related to the zonal wavenumber of the stationary Rossby waves, is used to distinguish between these regimes either in their supercritical or subcritical phase. For instance, the supercritical n = 2 regime is associated with a class of interdecadal gyre modes that extend up to 3000 km in the zonal direction. The quantization of the low-frequency dynamics and the existence of these regimes are also found to survive severe modifications of the basin geometry. These quantized regimes suggest that the low-frequency dynamics in turbulent regimes is likely to be autosimilar to the low-frequency dynamics found in a weakly nonlinear “ground” regime corresponding to n = 0.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Eric Simonnet, Institut Non Linéaire de Nice (INLN), UMR 6618 CNRS, 1361 route des Lucioles, 06560 Valbonne, France. Email: eric.simonnet@inln.cnrs.fr

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