Characteristics and Dynamics of Density Fronts over the Inner to Mid-shelf under Weak Wind Conditions

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California, USA
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Abstract

Here, we explore the kinematics and dynamics of coastal density fronts (within 10 km from shore and < 30 m depth), identified using an edge detection algorithm, in a realistic high resolution model of the San Diego Bight with relatively weak winds and small freshwater input. The density fronts have lengths spanning 4 − 10 km and surface density gradients spanning 2 − 20 × 10−4 kg m−4. Cross-shore oriented fronts are more likely with northward subtidal flow and are 1/3 as numerous as alongshore oriented fronts which are more likely with onshore surface baroclinic diurnal flow. Using a subset of the cross-shore fronts, decomposed into cross-front mean and perturbation components, an ensemble front is created. The ensemble cross-front mean flow is largely geostrophic in the cross- and along-front directions. The ensemble cross-shore front extends several kilometers from shore, with a distinct linear front axis and downwelling (upwelling) on the dense (light) side of the front, convergent perturbation cross-front flow within the upper 5 m, strengthening the ensemble front. Vertical mixing of momentum is weak, counter to the turbulent thermal wind mechanism. The ensemble cross-shore front resembles a gravity current and is generated by a convergent strain field acting on the large scale density field. The ensemble front is bounded by the shoreline and is alongfront geostropic and cross-front ageostrophic. This contrasts with the cross-front geostrophic and along-front ageostrophic balances of classic deformation frontogenesis, but is consistent with semi-geostrophic coastal circulation.

Corresponding author address: X. Wu, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman, Dr., La Jolla CA 92093-0209. E-mail:x1wu@ucsd.edu

Abstract

Here, we explore the kinematics and dynamics of coastal density fronts (within 10 km from shore and < 30 m depth), identified using an edge detection algorithm, in a realistic high resolution model of the San Diego Bight with relatively weak winds and small freshwater input. The density fronts have lengths spanning 4 − 10 km and surface density gradients spanning 2 − 20 × 10−4 kg m−4. Cross-shore oriented fronts are more likely with northward subtidal flow and are 1/3 as numerous as alongshore oriented fronts which are more likely with onshore surface baroclinic diurnal flow. Using a subset of the cross-shore fronts, decomposed into cross-front mean and perturbation components, an ensemble front is created. The ensemble cross-front mean flow is largely geostrophic in the cross- and along-front directions. The ensemble cross-shore front extends several kilometers from shore, with a distinct linear front axis and downwelling (upwelling) on the dense (light) side of the front, convergent perturbation cross-front flow within the upper 5 m, strengthening the ensemble front. Vertical mixing of momentum is weak, counter to the turbulent thermal wind mechanism. The ensemble cross-shore front resembles a gravity current and is generated by a convergent strain field acting on the large scale density field. The ensemble front is bounded by the shoreline and is alongfront geostropic and cross-front ageostrophic. This contrasts with the cross-front geostrophic and along-front ageostrophic balances of classic deformation frontogenesis, but is consistent with semi-geostrophic coastal circulation.

Corresponding author address: X. Wu, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman, Dr., La Jolla CA 92093-0209. E-mail:x1wu@ucsd.edu
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