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Thermodynamic Analysis of Ocean Circulation

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Stockholm, Sweden
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Abstract

Calculating a streamfunction as function of depth and density is proposed as a new way of analyzing the thermodynamic character of the overturning circulation in the global ocean. The sign of an overturning cell in this streamfunction directly shows whether it is driven mechanically by large-scale wind stress or thermally by heat conduction and small-scale mixing. It is also shown that the integral of this streamfunction gives the thermodynamic work performed by the fluid. The analysis is also valid for the Boussinesq equations, although formally there is no thermodynamic work in an incompressible fluid. The proposed method is applied both to an idealized coarse-resolution three-dimensional numerical ocean model, and to the realistic high-resolution Ocean Circulation and Climate Advanced Model (OCCAM). It is shown that the overturning circulation in OCCAM between the 200- and 1000-m depth is dominated by a thermally indirect cell of 24 Sverdrups (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), forced by Ekman pumping. In the densest and deepest waters there is a thermally direct cell of 18 Sv, which requires a forcing by around 100 GW of parameterized small-scale mixing.

Corresponding author address: J. Nycander, Dept. of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Stockholm S-106 91, Sweden. Email: jonas@misu.su.se

Abstract

Calculating a streamfunction as function of depth and density is proposed as a new way of analyzing the thermodynamic character of the overturning circulation in the global ocean. The sign of an overturning cell in this streamfunction directly shows whether it is driven mechanically by large-scale wind stress or thermally by heat conduction and small-scale mixing. It is also shown that the integral of this streamfunction gives the thermodynamic work performed by the fluid. The analysis is also valid for the Boussinesq equations, although formally there is no thermodynamic work in an incompressible fluid. The proposed method is applied both to an idealized coarse-resolution three-dimensional numerical ocean model, and to the realistic high-resolution Ocean Circulation and Climate Advanced Model (OCCAM). It is shown that the overturning circulation in OCCAM between the 200- and 1000-m depth is dominated by a thermally indirect cell of 24 Sverdrups (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), forced by Ekman pumping. In the densest and deepest waters there is a thermally direct cell of 18 Sv, which requires a forcing by around 100 GW of parameterized small-scale mixing.

Corresponding author address: J. Nycander, Dept. of Meteorology, Stockholm University, Stockholm S-106 91, Sweden. Email: jonas@misu.su.se

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