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Laboratory Experiments on the Interaction of a Buoyant Coastal Current with a Canyon: Application to the East Greenland Current

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  • 1 MIT/WHOI Joint Program, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Department of Physical Oceanography, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

This paper presents a set of laboratory experiments focused on how a buoyant coastal current flowing over a sloping bottom interacts with a canyon and what controls the separation, if any, of the current from the upstream canyon bend. The results show that the separation of a buoyant coastal current depends on the current width W relative to the radius of curvature of the bathymetry ρc. The flow moved across the mouth of the canyon (i.e., separated) for W/ρc > 1, in agreement with previous results. The present study extends previous work by examining both slope-controlled and surface-trapped currents, and using a geometry specific to investigating buoyant current–canyon interaction. The authors find that, although bottom friction is important in setting the position of the buoyant front, the separation process driven by the inertia of the flow could overcome even the strongest bathymetric influence. Application of the laboratory results to the East Greenland Current (EGC), an Arctic-origin buoyant current that is observed to flow in two branches south of Denmark Strait, suggests that the path of the EGC is influenced by the large canyons cutting across the shelf, as the range of W/ρc in the ocean spans those observed in the laboratory. What causes the formation of a two-branched EGC structure downstream of the Kangerdlugssuaq Canyon (∼68°N, 32°W) is still unclear, but potential mechanisms are discussed.

Corresponding author address: David A. Sutherland, University of Washington, School of Oceanography, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98195. Email: dsuth@u.washington.edu

Abstract

This paper presents a set of laboratory experiments focused on how a buoyant coastal current flowing over a sloping bottom interacts with a canyon and what controls the separation, if any, of the current from the upstream canyon bend. The results show that the separation of a buoyant coastal current depends on the current width W relative to the radius of curvature of the bathymetry ρc. The flow moved across the mouth of the canyon (i.e., separated) for W/ρc > 1, in agreement with previous results. The present study extends previous work by examining both slope-controlled and surface-trapped currents, and using a geometry specific to investigating buoyant current–canyon interaction. The authors find that, although bottom friction is important in setting the position of the buoyant front, the separation process driven by the inertia of the flow could overcome even the strongest bathymetric influence. Application of the laboratory results to the East Greenland Current (EGC), an Arctic-origin buoyant current that is observed to flow in two branches south of Denmark Strait, suggests that the path of the EGC is influenced by the large canyons cutting across the shelf, as the range of W/ρc in the ocean spans those observed in the laboratory. What causes the formation of a two-branched EGC structure downstream of the Kangerdlugssuaq Canyon (∼68°N, 32°W) is still unclear, but potential mechanisms are discussed.

Corresponding author address: David A. Sutherland, University of Washington, School of Oceanography, Box 355351, Seattle, WA 98195. Email: dsuth@u.washington.edu

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