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Topographic Control of Basin and Channel Flows: The Role of Bottom Pressure Torques and Friction

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • | 2 Proudman Oceanographic Laboratory, Liverpool, United Kingdom
  • | 3 Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool, United Kingdom
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Abstract

The topographical control of western boundary currents within a basin and zonal jets in a channel is investigated in terms of the potential vorticity (PV) and barotropic vorticity (BV: the curl of the depth-integrated velocity) budgets using isopycnic, adiabatic wind–driven experiments. Along the western boundary, the wind-driven transport is returned across latitude lines by the bottom pressure torque, while friction is only important in altering the PV within an isopycnic layer and in allowing a closed circulation. These contrasting balances constrain the geometry of the flow through integral relationships for the BV and PV. For both homogenous and stratified basins with sloping sidewalls, the northward subtropical jet separates from the western wall and has opposing frictional torques on either side of the jet, which cancel in a zonal integral for BV but alter the PV within a layer streamline. In a channel with partial topographic barriers, the bottom pressure torque is again important in returning wind-driven flows along western boundaries and in transferring BV from neighboring wind-driven gyres into a zonal jet. The depth-integrated flow steered by topography controls where the bottom friction alters the PV, which can lead to different PV states being attained for separate subbasins along a channel.

* Current affiliation: Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey

Corresponding author address: Dr. R. G. Williams, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GP, United Kingdom. Email: ric@liv.ac.uk

Abstract

The topographical control of western boundary currents within a basin and zonal jets in a channel is investigated in terms of the potential vorticity (PV) and barotropic vorticity (BV: the curl of the depth-integrated velocity) budgets using isopycnic, adiabatic wind–driven experiments. Along the western boundary, the wind-driven transport is returned across latitude lines by the bottom pressure torque, while friction is only important in altering the PV within an isopycnic layer and in allowing a closed circulation. These contrasting balances constrain the geometry of the flow through integral relationships for the BV and PV. For both homogenous and stratified basins with sloping sidewalls, the northward subtropical jet separates from the western wall and has opposing frictional torques on either side of the jet, which cancel in a zonal integral for BV but alter the PV within a layer streamline. In a channel with partial topographic barriers, the bottom pressure torque is again important in returning wind-driven flows along western boundaries and in transferring BV from neighboring wind-driven gyres into a zonal jet. The depth-integrated flow steered by topography controls where the bottom friction alters the PV, which can lead to different PV states being attained for separate subbasins along a channel.

* Current affiliation: Geophysical Fluid Dynamics Laboratory, Princeton, New Jersey

Corresponding author address: Dr. R. G. Williams, Department of Earth and Ocean Sciences, University of Liverpool, Liverpool L69 3GP, United Kingdom. Email: ric@liv.ac.uk

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