The Zonal Dimension of the Indian Ocean Meridional Overturning Circulation

Sybren S. Drijfhout Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), De Bilt, Netherlands

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Alberto C. Naveira Garabato National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom

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Abstract

The three-dimensional structure of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the deep Indian Ocean is investigated with an eddy-permitting ocean model. The amplitude of the modeled deep Indian Ocean MOC is 5.6 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), a broadly realistic but somewhat weak overturning. Although the model parameterization of diapycnal mixing is inaccurate, the model’s short spinup allows the effective diapycnal velocity (the sum of model drift and the explicitly modeled diapycnal velocity) to resemble the true, real-ocean diapycnal velocity. For this reason, the model is able to recover the broad zonal asymmetry in the turbulent buoyancy flux that is suggested by observations. The model features a substantial deep, depth-reversing zonal circulation of nearly 50% of the MOC. The existence of this circulation, brought about by the zonally asymmetric distribution of diapycnal mixing, implies a much slower ventilation of the deep Indian Ocean (by a factor of 5–6) than would be in place without zonal interbasin exchanges. It is concluded that the zonal asymmetry in the distribution of diapycnal mixing must have a major impact on the deep Indian Ocean’s capacity to store and transform climatically significant physical and biogeochemical tracers.

Corresponding author address: S. S. Drijfhout, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), P.O. Box 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, Netherlands. Email: drijfhou@knmi.nl

Abstract

The three-dimensional structure of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in the deep Indian Ocean is investigated with an eddy-permitting ocean model. The amplitude of the modeled deep Indian Ocean MOC is 5.6 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), a broadly realistic but somewhat weak overturning. Although the model parameterization of diapycnal mixing is inaccurate, the model’s short spinup allows the effective diapycnal velocity (the sum of model drift and the explicitly modeled diapycnal velocity) to resemble the true, real-ocean diapycnal velocity. For this reason, the model is able to recover the broad zonal asymmetry in the turbulent buoyancy flux that is suggested by observations. The model features a substantial deep, depth-reversing zonal circulation of nearly 50% of the MOC. The existence of this circulation, brought about by the zonally asymmetric distribution of diapycnal mixing, implies a much slower ventilation of the deep Indian Ocean (by a factor of 5–6) than would be in place without zonal interbasin exchanges. It is concluded that the zonal asymmetry in the distribution of diapycnal mixing must have a major impact on the deep Indian Ocean’s capacity to store and transform climatically significant physical and biogeochemical tracers.

Corresponding author address: S. S. Drijfhout, Royal Netherlands Meteorological Institute (KNMI), P.O. Box 201, 3730 AE De Bilt, Netherlands. Email: drijfhou@knmi.nl

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