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A Simple Dynamical Model of the Warm-Water Branch of the Middepth Meridional Overturning Cell

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  • 1 College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
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Abstract

A reduced-gravity model is presented of the warm-water branch of the middepth meridional overturning circulation in a rectangular basin with a circumpolar connection. The model describes the balance between production of warm water by Ekman advection across the circumpolar current, dissipation of warm water by eddy fluxes southward across the current, and the net production or dissipation of warm water by diabatic processes north of the current. The results emphasize the role of the eastern boundary condition in setting the thermocline structure north of the current and the nonlinear interactions between wind forcing, eddy fluxes, and diabatic mixing, which together control the structure and amplitude of the model meridional overturning circulation. Solutions are shown to exist in which the northward Ekman transport across the circumpolar current is completely compensated by southward eddy fluxes and the meridional overturning north of the current is entirely driven by diabatic forcing and interior upwelling through the base of the layer. Other solutions are shown to exist in which the interior upwelling into the warm layer at midlatitudes is negligible and the meridional overturning circulation consists of a continuous cell that carried the fluid delivered by the northward Ekman transport across the circumpolar current through midlatitudes to the Northern Hemisphere subpolar gyre, where it cools and returns to depth. The results emphasize that the coupled elements of wind driving, eddy fluxes, and diabatic processes are inextricably intertwined in the middepth meridional overturning circulation.

Corresponding author address: R. M. Samelson, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, 104 COAS Admin. Bldg., Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331–5503. Email: rsamelson@coas.oregonstate.edu

This article included in the In Honor of Joseph Pedlosky special collection.

Abstract

A reduced-gravity model is presented of the warm-water branch of the middepth meridional overturning circulation in a rectangular basin with a circumpolar connection. The model describes the balance between production of warm water by Ekman advection across the circumpolar current, dissipation of warm water by eddy fluxes southward across the current, and the net production or dissipation of warm water by diabatic processes north of the current. The results emphasize the role of the eastern boundary condition in setting the thermocline structure north of the current and the nonlinear interactions between wind forcing, eddy fluxes, and diabatic mixing, which together control the structure and amplitude of the model meridional overturning circulation. Solutions are shown to exist in which the northward Ekman transport across the circumpolar current is completely compensated by southward eddy fluxes and the meridional overturning north of the current is entirely driven by diabatic forcing and interior upwelling through the base of the layer. Other solutions are shown to exist in which the interior upwelling into the warm layer at midlatitudes is negligible and the meridional overturning circulation consists of a continuous cell that carried the fluid delivered by the northward Ekman transport across the circumpolar current through midlatitudes to the Northern Hemisphere subpolar gyre, where it cools and returns to depth. The results emphasize that the coupled elements of wind driving, eddy fluxes, and diabatic processes are inextricably intertwined in the middepth meridional overturning circulation.

Corresponding author address: R. M. Samelson, College of Oceanic and Atmospheric Sciences, 104 COAS Admin. Bldg., Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331–5503. Email: rsamelson@coas.oregonstate.edu

This article included in the In Honor of Joseph Pedlosky special collection.

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