High vertical shear and dissipation in equatorial topographic wakes

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California, USA
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Abstract

Submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs) are a ubiquitous feature of topographic wakes in the extratropical oceans. Recent studies demonstrate a mechanism wherein high vorticity bottom boundary layers (BBLs) on the slopes of the topography separate (forming shear layers), undergo instabilities, and subsequently merge in the horizontal and align in the vertical to form vertically coherent, columnar, SCVs (i.e. with low vertical shear). Background rotation is critical to the vertical alignment of unstable vortical filaments into coherent SCVs. In the tropics, however, the weakening of rotation prevents this alignment. Employing an idealized framework of steady barotropic flow past an isolated seamount in a background of constant stratification N and rotation rate f, we examine the wake structure for a range of f values spanning values from the poles to the tropics. We find a systematic increase in the interior vertical shear with decreasing f that manifests as a highly layered wake structure consisting of vertically thin, ‘pancake’ SCVs possessing a high vertical shear. A monotonic increase in the wake energy dissipation rate is concomitantly observed with decreasing f. By examining the evolution equations for the vertical shear and vertical enstrophy, we find that the interior shear generation is an advective process, with the location of peak shear generation approximately colocated with maximum energy dissipation. This leads to the inference that high wake dissipation in tropical tropographic wakes is caused by parameterized shear instabilities induced by interior advective generation of vertical shear in the near wake region.

Corresponding author address: Kaushik Srinivasan, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, UCLA, CA 90095-1565. E-mail: kaushiks@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

Submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs) are a ubiquitous feature of topographic wakes in the extratropical oceans. Recent studies demonstrate a mechanism wherein high vorticity bottom boundary layers (BBLs) on the slopes of the topography separate (forming shear layers), undergo instabilities, and subsequently merge in the horizontal and align in the vertical to form vertically coherent, columnar, SCVs (i.e. with low vertical shear). Background rotation is critical to the vertical alignment of unstable vortical filaments into coherent SCVs. In the tropics, however, the weakening of rotation prevents this alignment. Employing an idealized framework of steady barotropic flow past an isolated seamount in a background of constant stratification N and rotation rate f, we examine the wake structure for a range of f values spanning values from the poles to the tropics. We find a systematic increase in the interior vertical shear with decreasing f that manifests as a highly layered wake structure consisting of vertically thin, ‘pancake’ SCVs possessing a high vertical shear. A monotonic increase in the wake energy dissipation rate is concomitantly observed with decreasing f. By examining the evolution equations for the vertical shear and vertical enstrophy, we find that the interior shear generation is an advective process, with the location of peak shear generation approximately colocated with maximum energy dissipation. This leads to the inference that high wake dissipation in tropical tropographic wakes is caused by parameterized shear instabilities induced by interior advective generation of vertical shear in the near wake region.

Corresponding author address: Kaushik Srinivasan, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, UCLA, CA 90095-1565. E-mail: kaushiks@atmos.ucla.edu
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