Does Topographic Form Stress Impede Prograde Ocean Currents?

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California
  • | 2 Department of Ocean Science and Center for Ocean Research in Hong Kong and Macau, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

Topographic form stress (TFS) plays a central role in constraining the transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), and thus the rate of exchange between the major ocean basins. Topographic form stress generation in the ACC has been linked to the formation of standing Rossby waves, which occur because the current is retrograde (opposing the direction of Rossby wave propagation). However, it is unclear whether TFS similarly retards current systems that are prograde (in the direction of Rossby wave propagation), which cannot arrest Rossby waves. An isopycnal model is used to investigate the momentum balance of wind-driven prograde and retrograde flows in a zonal channel, with bathymetry consisting of either a single ridge or a continental shelf and slope with a meridional excursion. Consistent with previous studies, retrograde flows are almost entirely impeded by TFS, except in the limit of flat bathymetry, whereas prograde flows are typically impeded by a combination of TFS and bottom friction. A barotropic theory for standing waves shows that bottom friction serves to shift the phase of the standing wave’s pressure field from that of the bathymetry, which is necessary to produce TFS. The mechanism is the same in prograde and retrograde flows, but is most efficient when the mean flow arrests a Rossby wave with a wavelength comparable to that of the bathymetry. The asymmetry between prograde and retrograde momentum balances implies that prograde current systems may be more sensitive to changes in wind forcing, for example associated with climate shifts.

Corresponding author: Yue Bai, baiyue@ucla.edu

This article is included in the Oceanic flow–topography interactions special collection.

Abstract

Topographic form stress (TFS) plays a central role in constraining the transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), and thus the rate of exchange between the major ocean basins. Topographic form stress generation in the ACC has been linked to the formation of standing Rossby waves, which occur because the current is retrograde (opposing the direction of Rossby wave propagation). However, it is unclear whether TFS similarly retards current systems that are prograde (in the direction of Rossby wave propagation), which cannot arrest Rossby waves. An isopycnal model is used to investigate the momentum balance of wind-driven prograde and retrograde flows in a zonal channel, with bathymetry consisting of either a single ridge or a continental shelf and slope with a meridional excursion. Consistent with previous studies, retrograde flows are almost entirely impeded by TFS, except in the limit of flat bathymetry, whereas prograde flows are typically impeded by a combination of TFS and bottom friction. A barotropic theory for standing waves shows that bottom friction serves to shift the phase of the standing wave’s pressure field from that of the bathymetry, which is necessary to produce TFS. The mechanism is the same in prograde and retrograde flows, but is most efficient when the mean flow arrests a Rossby wave with a wavelength comparable to that of the bathymetry. The asymmetry between prograde and retrograde momentum balances implies that prograde current systems may be more sensitive to changes in wind forcing, for example associated with climate shifts.

Corresponding author: Yue Bai, baiyue@ucla.edu

This article is included in the Oceanic flow–topography interactions special collection.

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