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Is Interleaving in the Agulhas Current Driven by Near-Inertial Velocity Perturbations?

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  • 1 Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Miami, Florida
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Abstract

Recent observations taken at a number of latitudes in the Agulhas Current reveal that the water mass structure on either side of its dynamical core is distinctly different. Moreover, interleaving of these distinct water masses is observed at over 80% of the stations occupied in the current, particularly within the subsurface density layer between tropical surface water and subtropical surface water masses, and within the intermediate layer between the Antarctic Intermediate Water and Red Sea water masses. Direct velocity measurements allow for a comparison between the characteristic vertical length scales of the Agulhas intrusions and those of velocity perturbations found throughout the current. It is found that the interleaving scales match those of the velocity perturbations, which are manifest as high-wavenumber vertical shear layers and are identified as near-inertial oscillations. Furthermore, the properties of the intrusions indicate that double diffusion is not an important process in their development: they are generally not associated with a density anomaly, their slope and thickness fall outside the predicted maxima for instability, and a strong horizontal shear field acts to separate water parcels more quickly than intrusions would be able to grow by double-diffusive processes. Instead, the position, thickness, and slope of Agulhas intrusions relative to the background salinity and density field suggest that they are forced by rotating inertial velocities, with subsequent growth possibly driven by small-scale baroclinic instabilities. However, not all the evidence points conclusively toward advectively driven intrusions. For instance, there is a discrepancy between the observed salinity anomaly amplitude and the predicted inertial displacement given the background salinity gradient, which deserves further examination. Hence, there is a future need for more pointed observations and perhaps the development of an analytical or numerical model to understand the exact nature of Agulhas intrusions.

Corresponding author address: Dr. L. M. Beal, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149-1098. Email: lbeal@rsmas.miami.edu

Abstract

Recent observations taken at a number of latitudes in the Agulhas Current reveal that the water mass structure on either side of its dynamical core is distinctly different. Moreover, interleaving of these distinct water masses is observed at over 80% of the stations occupied in the current, particularly within the subsurface density layer between tropical surface water and subtropical surface water masses, and within the intermediate layer between the Antarctic Intermediate Water and Red Sea water masses. Direct velocity measurements allow for a comparison between the characteristic vertical length scales of the Agulhas intrusions and those of velocity perturbations found throughout the current. It is found that the interleaving scales match those of the velocity perturbations, which are manifest as high-wavenumber vertical shear layers and are identified as near-inertial oscillations. Furthermore, the properties of the intrusions indicate that double diffusion is not an important process in their development: they are generally not associated with a density anomaly, their slope and thickness fall outside the predicted maxima for instability, and a strong horizontal shear field acts to separate water parcels more quickly than intrusions would be able to grow by double-diffusive processes. Instead, the position, thickness, and slope of Agulhas intrusions relative to the background salinity and density field suggest that they are forced by rotating inertial velocities, with subsequent growth possibly driven by small-scale baroclinic instabilities. However, not all the evidence points conclusively toward advectively driven intrusions. For instance, there is a discrepancy between the observed salinity anomaly amplitude and the predicted inertial displacement given the background salinity gradient, which deserves further examination. Hence, there is a future need for more pointed observations and perhaps the development of an analytical or numerical model to understand the exact nature of Agulhas intrusions.

Corresponding author address: Dr. L. M. Beal, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, 4600 Rickenbacker Causeway, Miami, FL 33149-1098. Email: lbeal@rsmas.miami.edu

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