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Effect of Sea Surface Temperature–Wind Stress Coupling on Baroclinic Instability in the Ocean

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  • 1 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The impact of the observed relationship between sea surface temperature and surface wind stress on baroclinic instability in the ocean is explored using linear theory and a nonlinear model. A simple parameterization of the influence of sea surface temperature on wind stress is used to derive a surface boundary condition for the vertical velocity at the base of the oceanic Ekman layer. This boundary condition is applied to the classic linear, quasigeostrophic stability problem for a uniformly sheared flow originally studied by Eady in the 1940s. The results demonstrate that for a wind directed from warm water toward cold water, the coupling acts to enhance the growth rate, and increase the wavelength, of the most unstable wave. Winds in the opposite sense reduce the growth rate and decrease the wavelength of the most unstable wave. For representative coupling strengths, the change in growth rate can be as large as ±O(50%). This effect is largest for shallow, strongly stratified, low-latitude flows.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Spall, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: mspall@whoi.edu

Abstract

The impact of the observed relationship between sea surface temperature and surface wind stress on baroclinic instability in the ocean is explored using linear theory and a nonlinear model. A simple parameterization of the influence of sea surface temperature on wind stress is used to derive a surface boundary condition for the vertical velocity at the base of the oceanic Ekman layer. This boundary condition is applied to the classic linear, quasigeostrophic stability problem for a uniformly sheared flow originally studied by Eady in the 1940s. The results demonstrate that for a wind directed from warm water toward cold water, the coupling acts to enhance the growth rate, and increase the wavelength, of the most unstable wave. Winds in the opposite sense reduce the growth rate and decrease the wavelength of the most unstable wave. For representative coupling strengths, the change in growth rate can be as large as ±O(50%). This effect is largest for shallow, strongly stratified, low-latitude flows.

Corresponding author address: Michael A. Spall, Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, MA 02543. Email: mspall@whoi.edu

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