Seasonal Mesoscale and Submesoscale Eddy Variability along the North Pacific Subtropical Countercurrent

Bo Qiu Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Shuiming Chen Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

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Patrice Klein Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, Ifremer/CNRS/UBO/IRD, Plouzané, France

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Hideharu Sasaki Application Laboratory, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokohama, Japan

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Yoshikazu Sasai Research and Development Center for Global Change, Japan Agency for Marine-Earth Science and Technology, Yokohama, Japan

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Abstract

Located at the center of the western North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the Subtropical Countercurrent (STCC) is not only abundant in mesoscale eddies, but also exhibits prominent submesoscale eddy features. Output from a ° high-resolution OGCM simulation and a gridded satellite altimetry product are analyzed to contrast the seasonal STCC variability in the mesoscale versus submesoscale ranges. Resolving the eddy scales of >150 km, the altimetry product reveals that the STCC eddy kinetic energy and rms vorticity have a seasonal maximum in May and April, respectively, a weak positive vorticity skewness without seasonal dependence, and an inverse (forward) kinetic energy cascade for wavelengths larger (shorter) than 250 km. In contrast, the submesoscale-resolving OGCM simulation detects that the STCC eddy kinetic energy and rms vorticity both appear in March, a large positive vorticity skewness with strong seasonality, and an intense inverse kinetic energy cascade whose short-wave cutoff migrates seasonally between the 35- and 100-km wavelengths. Using a 2.5-layer, reduced-gravity model with an embedded surface density gradient, the authors show that these differences are due to the seasonal evolution of two concurring baroclinic instabilities. Extracting its energy from the surface density gradient, the frontal instability has a growth time scale of O(7) days, a dominant wavelength of O(50) km, and is responsible for the surface-intensified submesoscale eddy signals. The interior baroclinic instability, on the other hand, extracts energy from the vertically sheared STCC system. It has a slow growth time scale of O(40) days, a dominant wavelength of O(250) km, and, together with the kinetic energy cascaded upscale from the submesoscales, determines the mesoscale eddy modulations.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: bo@soest.hawaii.edu

Abstract

Located at the center of the western North Pacific Subtropical Gyre, the Subtropical Countercurrent (STCC) is not only abundant in mesoscale eddies, but also exhibits prominent submesoscale eddy features. Output from a ° high-resolution OGCM simulation and a gridded satellite altimetry product are analyzed to contrast the seasonal STCC variability in the mesoscale versus submesoscale ranges. Resolving the eddy scales of >150 km, the altimetry product reveals that the STCC eddy kinetic energy and rms vorticity have a seasonal maximum in May and April, respectively, a weak positive vorticity skewness without seasonal dependence, and an inverse (forward) kinetic energy cascade for wavelengths larger (shorter) than 250 km. In contrast, the submesoscale-resolving OGCM simulation detects that the STCC eddy kinetic energy and rms vorticity both appear in March, a large positive vorticity skewness with strong seasonality, and an intense inverse kinetic energy cascade whose short-wave cutoff migrates seasonally between the 35- and 100-km wavelengths. Using a 2.5-layer, reduced-gravity model with an embedded surface density gradient, the authors show that these differences are due to the seasonal evolution of two concurring baroclinic instabilities. Extracting its energy from the surface density gradient, the frontal instability has a growth time scale of O(7) days, a dominant wavelength of O(50) km, and is responsible for the surface-intensified submesoscale eddy signals. The interior baroclinic instability, on the other hand, extracts energy from the vertically sheared STCC system. It has a slow growth time scale of O(40) days, a dominant wavelength of O(250) km, and, together with the kinetic energy cascaded upscale from the submesoscales, determines the mesoscale eddy modulations.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Bo Qiu, Department of Oceanography, University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa, 1000 Pope Road, Honolulu, HI 96822. E-mail: bo@soest.hawaii.edu
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