The Meridional Flow of Source-Driven Abyssal Currents in a Stratified Basin with Topography. Part II: Numerical Simulation

Gordon E. Swaters Applied Mathematics Institute, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, and Institute for Geophysical Research, University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada

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Abstract

A numerical simulation is described for source-driven abyssal currents in a 3660 km × 3660 km stratified Northern Hemisphere basin with zonally varying topography. The model is the two-layer quasigeostrophic equations, describing the overlying ocean, coupled to the finite-amplitude planetary geostrophic equations, describing the abyssal layer, on a midlatitude β plane. The source region is a fixed 75 km × 150 km area located in the northwestern sector of the basin with a steady downward volume transport of about 5.6 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) corresponding to an average downwelling velocity of about 0.05 cm s−1. The other parameter values are characteristic of the North Atlantic Ocean. It takes about 3.2 yr for the abyssal water mass to reach the southern boundary and about 25 yr for a statistical state to develop. Time-averaged and instantaneous fields at a late time are described. The time-averaged fields show an equatorward-flowing abyssal current with distinct up- and downslope groundings with decreasing height in the equatorward direction. The average equatorward abyssal transport is about 8 Sv, and the average abyssal current thickness is about 500 m and is about 400 km wide. The circulation in the upper layers is mostly cyclonic and is western intensified, with current speeds about 0.6 cm s−1. The upper layer cyclonic circulation intensifies in the source region with speeds about 4 cm s−1, and there is an anticyclonic circulation region immediately adjacent to the western boundary giving rise to a weak barotropic poleward current in the upper layers with a speed of about 0.6 cm s−1. The instantaneous fields are highly variable. Even though the source is steady, there is a pronounced spectral peak at the period of about 54 days. The frequency associated with the spectral peak is an increasing function of the downwelling volume flux. The periodicity is associated with the formation of transient cyclonic eddies in the overlying ocean in the source region and downslope propagating plumes and boluses in the abyssal water mass. The cyclonic eddies have a radii about 100–150 km and propagation speeds about 5–10 cm s−1. The eddies are formed initially because of stretching associated with the downwelling in the source region. Once detached from the source region, the cyclonic eddies are phase locked with the boluses or plumes that form on the downslope grounding of the abyssal current, which themselves form because of baroclinic instability. Eventually, the background vorticity gradients associated with β and the sloping bottom arrest the downslope (eastward) motion, the abyssal boluses diminish in amplitude, the abyssal current flows preferentially equatorward, the upper layer eddies disperse and diminish in amplitude, and westward intensification develops.

Corresponding author address: Gordon E. Swaters, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2G1, Canada. Email: gordon.swaters@ualberta.ca

Abstract

A numerical simulation is described for source-driven abyssal currents in a 3660 km × 3660 km stratified Northern Hemisphere basin with zonally varying topography. The model is the two-layer quasigeostrophic equations, describing the overlying ocean, coupled to the finite-amplitude planetary geostrophic equations, describing the abyssal layer, on a midlatitude β plane. The source region is a fixed 75 km × 150 km area located in the northwestern sector of the basin with a steady downward volume transport of about 5.6 Sv (Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) corresponding to an average downwelling velocity of about 0.05 cm s−1. The other parameter values are characteristic of the North Atlantic Ocean. It takes about 3.2 yr for the abyssal water mass to reach the southern boundary and about 25 yr for a statistical state to develop. Time-averaged and instantaneous fields at a late time are described. The time-averaged fields show an equatorward-flowing abyssal current with distinct up- and downslope groundings with decreasing height in the equatorward direction. The average equatorward abyssal transport is about 8 Sv, and the average abyssal current thickness is about 500 m and is about 400 km wide. The circulation in the upper layers is mostly cyclonic and is western intensified, with current speeds about 0.6 cm s−1. The upper layer cyclonic circulation intensifies in the source region with speeds about 4 cm s−1, and there is an anticyclonic circulation region immediately adjacent to the western boundary giving rise to a weak barotropic poleward current in the upper layers with a speed of about 0.6 cm s−1. The instantaneous fields are highly variable. Even though the source is steady, there is a pronounced spectral peak at the period of about 54 days. The frequency associated with the spectral peak is an increasing function of the downwelling volume flux. The periodicity is associated with the formation of transient cyclonic eddies in the overlying ocean in the source region and downslope propagating plumes and boluses in the abyssal water mass. The cyclonic eddies have a radii about 100–150 km and propagation speeds about 5–10 cm s−1. The eddies are formed initially because of stretching associated with the downwelling in the source region. Once detached from the source region, the cyclonic eddies are phase locked with the boluses or plumes that form on the downslope grounding of the abyssal current, which themselves form because of baroclinic instability. Eventually, the background vorticity gradients associated with β and the sloping bottom arrest the downslope (eastward) motion, the abyssal boluses diminish in amplitude, the abyssal current flows preferentially equatorward, the upper layer eddies disperse and diminish in amplitude, and westward intensification develops.

Corresponding author address: Gordon E. Swaters, Department of Mathematical and Statistical Sciences, University of Alberta, Edmonton, AB, T6G 2G1, Canada. Email: gordon.swaters@ualberta.ca

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