The Influence of Topography on the Stability of Shelfbreak Fronts

M. Susan Lozier Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Duke University, Durham, North Carolina

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Mark S. C. Reed North Carolina Supercomputing Center, Research Triangle Park, North Carolina

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Abstract

In an attempt to understand the degree to which the stability of a shelfbreak front, characterized by continuous horizontal and vertical shear, is affected by topography, a linear stability analysis was conducted for a range of frontal jets and bottom-slope configurations. Three-dimensional perturbations superposed on a continuously stratified shelfbreak front were investigated using linearized, hydrostatic primitive equations. For all model runs in the study, the frontal instability mode, which is the fastest-growing mode for a baroclinic flow, was not influenced by the bottom: Retrograde, prograde, and flat-bottom jets all share the same stability characteristics. In contrast, weakly baroclinic jets are strongly influenced by bottom topography. The presence of a bottom slope stabilizes prograde jets and destabilizes retrograde jets, a difference attributed to the orientation of the isopycnals relative to the bottom slope. Temporal and/or downstream changes in the bottom slope and/or background stratification are shown to produce sizeable changes in the instability of a weakly baroclinic jet.

Corresponding author address: M. Susan Lozier, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Box 90230, Duke University, Durham, NC 20078-0227. Email: mslozier@duke.edu

Abstract

In an attempt to understand the degree to which the stability of a shelfbreak front, characterized by continuous horizontal and vertical shear, is affected by topography, a linear stability analysis was conducted for a range of frontal jets and bottom-slope configurations. Three-dimensional perturbations superposed on a continuously stratified shelfbreak front were investigated using linearized, hydrostatic primitive equations. For all model runs in the study, the frontal instability mode, which is the fastest-growing mode for a baroclinic flow, was not influenced by the bottom: Retrograde, prograde, and flat-bottom jets all share the same stability characteristics. In contrast, weakly baroclinic jets are strongly influenced by bottom topography. The presence of a bottom slope stabilizes prograde jets and destabilizes retrograde jets, a difference attributed to the orientation of the isopycnals relative to the bottom slope. Temporal and/or downstream changes in the bottom slope and/or background stratification are shown to produce sizeable changes in the instability of a weakly baroclinic jet.

Corresponding author address: M. Susan Lozier, Nicholas School of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Division of Earth and Ocean Sciences, Box 90230, Duke University, Durham, NC 20078-0227. Email: mslozier@duke.edu

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