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Length Scales of Eddy Generation and Nonlinear Evolution of the Seasonally Modulated South Pacific Subtropical Countercurrent

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  • 1 Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
  • | 2 Institute for Geophysics, The University of Texas at Austin, Austin, Texas
  • | 3 Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
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Abstract

The dynamical processes behind the seasonal modulation of the two-dimensional eddy kinetic energy (EKE) wavenumber spectrum in the Subtropical Countercurrent region of the South Pacific are investigated with 14 yr of satellite altimeter data and climatological hydrographic data. The authors find a seasonally modulated generation of EKE via baroclinic instability in modes with larger meridional length scales. Subsequent nonlinear eddy–eddy interactions redistribute the EKE to larger total horizontal length scales, and larger zonal scales in particular. This is confirmed by diagnosing the spectral transfer of EKE in the surface geostrophic flow, which is found to drive an anisotropic inverse cascade, being redirected in the sense consistent with the β effect, as predicted by geostrophic turbulence theory on the β plane. Because of the seasonal renewal of meridionally elongated anomalies by baroclinic instability and possibly because of the barotropization process, however, the net outcome for the formation of surface zonal flows is observed to be limited.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: bo@soest.hawaii.edu

Abstract

The dynamical processes behind the seasonal modulation of the two-dimensional eddy kinetic energy (EKE) wavenumber spectrum in the Subtropical Countercurrent region of the South Pacific are investigated with 14 yr of satellite altimeter data and climatological hydrographic data. The authors find a seasonally modulated generation of EKE via baroclinic instability in modes with larger meridional length scales. Subsequent nonlinear eddy–eddy interactions redistribute the EKE to larger total horizontal length scales, and larger zonal scales in particular. This is confirmed by diagnosing the spectral transfer of EKE in the surface geostrophic flow, which is found to drive an anisotropic inverse cascade, being redirected in the sense consistent with the β effect, as predicted by geostrophic turbulence theory on the β plane. Because of the seasonal renewal of meridionally elongated anomalies by baroclinic instability and possibly because of the barotropization process, however, the net outcome for the formation of surface zonal flows is observed to be limited.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawaii at Manoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. Email: bo@soest.hawaii.edu

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