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Structure of Submesoscale Fronts of the Mississippi River Plume

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  • 1 Key Laboratory of Marine Environment and Ecology, Ocean University of China, Qingdao, China
  • | 2 Pilot National Laboratory for Marine Science and Technology, Qingdao, China
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
  • | 4 Department of Geosciences, Tel Aviv University, Ramat Aviv, Israel
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Abstract

Submesoscale currents (SMCs), in the forms of fronts, filaments, and vortices, are studied using a high-resolution (~150 m) Regional Oceanic Modeling System (ROMS) simulation in the Mississippi River plume system. Fronts and filaments are identified by large horizontal velocity and buoyancy gradients, surface convergence, and cyclonic vertical vorticity with along-coast fronts and along-plume-edge filaments notably evident. Frontogenesis and arrest/destruction are two fundamental phases in the life cycle of fronts and filaments. In the Mississippi River plume region, the horizontal advective tendency induced by confluence and convergence plays a primary role in frontogenesis. Confluent currents sharpen preexisting horizontal buoyancy gradients and initiate frontogenesis. Once the fronts and filaments are formed and the Rossby number reaches O(1), they further evolve frontogenetically mainly by convergent secondary circulations, which can be maintained by different cross-front momentum balance regimes. Confluent motions and preexisting horizontal buoyancy gradients depend on the interaction between wind-induced Ekman transport and the spreading plume water. Consequently, the direction of wind has a significant effect on the temporal variability of SMCs, with more active SMCs generated during a coastally downwelling-favorable wind and fewer SMCs during an upwelling-favorable wind. Submesoscale instabilities (~1–3 km) play a primary role in the arrest and fragmentation of most fronts and filaments. These instabilities propagate along the fronts and filaments, and their energy conversion is a mixed barotropic–baroclinic type with horizontal-shear instabilities dominating.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Tao Wang, haidawangtao@163.com; taowang@ouc.edu.cn

Abstract

Submesoscale currents (SMCs), in the forms of fronts, filaments, and vortices, are studied using a high-resolution (~150 m) Regional Oceanic Modeling System (ROMS) simulation in the Mississippi River plume system. Fronts and filaments are identified by large horizontal velocity and buoyancy gradients, surface convergence, and cyclonic vertical vorticity with along-coast fronts and along-plume-edge filaments notably evident. Frontogenesis and arrest/destruction are two fundamental phases in the life cycle of fronts and filaments. In the Mississippi River plume region, the horizontal advective tendency induced by confluence and convergence plays a primary role in frontogenesis. Confluent currents sharpen preexisting horizontal buoyancy gradients and initiate frontogenesis. Once the fronts and filaments are formed and the Rossby number reaches O(1), they further evolve frontogenetically mainly by convergent secondary circulations, which can be maintained by different cross-front momentum balance regimes. Confluent motions and preexisting horizontal buoyancy gradients depend on the interaction between wind-induced Ekman transport and the spreading plume water. Consequently, the direction of wind has a significant effect on the temporal variability of SMCs, with more active SMCs generated during a coastally downwelling-favorable wind and fewer SMCs during an upwelling-favorable wind. Submesoscale instabilities (~1–3 km) play a primary role in the arrest and fragmentation of most fronts and filaments. These instabilities propagate along the fronts and filaments, and their energy conversion is a mixed barotropic–baroclinic type with horizontal-shear instabilities dominating.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Tao Wang, haidawangtao@163.com; taowang@ouc.edu.cn
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