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Viscosity-Dependent Internal Variability in a Model of the North Pacific

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  • 1 Department of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

A 2°-resolution isopycnal model of the North Pacific Ocean is shown to produce anomalies that propagate around the subtropical gyre on the decadal time scale that do not appear in a 1°-resolution version of the same model. A principal oscillation pattern (POP) analysis of the isopycnal interface anomaly is performed to examine the dynamics responsible for the anomaly generation. The POPs show a coherent oscillation around the entire subtropical gyre with two centers of action, one in the Central Mode Water (CMW) region, the other in the Subtropical Countercurrent (STCC). Lead–lag covariances between the subduction rate in the CMW and the layer thickness along the oscillation path indicate that anomalous subduction events are not the driving mechanism for the oscillation. A linearized quasigeostrophic mode analysis shows that the anomalies are generated by flow instability in the region of the STCC. The instability disappears in the 1° model because of changes in the horizontal viscosity, which is set in each model to the minimum value necessary to resolve the western boundary current and preserve numerical stability. A criterion for model resolution of an instability of a given length and time scale damped by biharmonic viscosity is derived. The enhancement of the large-scale instabilities in the low-resolution model emphasizes the importance of achieving mesoscale resolution in ocean models used for climate studies.

Corresponding author address: Jordan T. Dawe, University of Washington, School of Oceanography, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98195. Email: freedryk@ocean.washington.edu

Abstract

A 2°-resolution isopycnal model of the North Pacific Ocean is shown to produce anomalies that propagate around the subtropical gyre on the decadal time scale that do not appear in a 1°-resolution version of the same model. A principal oscillation pattern (POP) analysis of the isopycnal interface anomaly is performed to examine the dynamics responsible for the anomaly generation. The POPs show a coherent oscillation around the entire subtropical gyre with two centers of action, one in the Central Mode Water (CMW) region, the other in the Subtropical Countercurrent (STCC). Lead–lag covariances between the subduction rate in the CMW and the layer thickness along the oscillation path indicate that anomalous subduction events are not the driving mechanism for the oscillation. A linearized quasigeostrophic mode analysis shows that the anomalies are generated by flow instability in the region of the STCC. The instability disappears in the 1° model because of changes in the horizontal viscosity, which is set in each model to the minimum value necessary to resolve the western boundary current and preserve numerical stability. A criterion for model resolution of an instability of a given length and time scale damped by biharmonic viscosity is derived. The enhancement of the large-scale instabilities in the low-resolution model emphasizes the importance of achieving mesoscale resolution in ocean models used for climate studies.

Corresponding author address: Jordan T. Dawe, University of Washington, School of Oceanography, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98195. Email: freedryk@ocean.washington.edu

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