Submesoscale Instability in the Straits of Florida

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  • 1 a Florida Atlantic University, Harbor Branch oceanographic Institute, Fort Pierce, Florida,
  • | 2 b Alfred-Wegener-Institute, Helmholtz Centre for Polar and Marine Research, Bremerhaven, Germany
  • | 3 c IUEM/LOPS, UFR Sciences/ Dept. Physique, Plouzané, France
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Abstract

The Florida Current (FC) flows in the Straits of Florida (SoF) and connects the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf Stream (GS) in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Its journey through the SoF is at time characterized by the formation and presence of mesoscale but mostly submesoscale frontal eddies on the cyclonic side of the current. The formation of those frontal eddies was investigated in a very high resolution two-way nested simulation using the Regional Oceanic Modeling System (ROMS). Frontal eddies were either locally formed or originated from outside the SoF. The northern front of the incoming eddies was susceptible to superinertial shear instability over the shelf slope when the eddies were pushed up against the slope by the FC. Otherwise, incoming eddies could be advected relatively unaffected by the current, when in the southern part of the straits. In absence of incoming eddies, submesoscale eddies were locally formed by the roll-up of superinertial barotropically unstable vorticity filaments when the FC was pushed up against the shelf slope. The vorticity filaments were intensified by the friction-induced bottom layer vorticity flux as previously demonstrated by Gula et al. (2015b) in the GS. When the FC retreated further south, negative vorticity West Florida Shelf waters overflowed into the SOF and led to the formation of submesocale eddies by baroclinic instability. The instability regimes, hence, the submesoscale frontal eddies formation appear to be controlled by the lateral ‘sloshing’ of the FC in the SoF.

Corresponding author: Laurent Chérubin, lcherubin@fau.edu

Abstract

The Florida Current (FC) flows in the Straits of Florida (SoF) and connects the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico to the Gulf Stream (GS) in the Western Atlantic Ocean. Its journey through the SoF is at time characterized by the formation and presence of mesoscale but mostly submesoscale frontal eddies on the cyclonic side of the current. The formation of those frontal eddies was investigated in a very high resolution two-way nested simulation using the Regional Oceanic Modeling System (ROMS). Frontal eddies were either locally formed or originated from outside the SoF. The northern front of the incoming eddies was susceptible to superinertial shear instability over the shelf slope when the eddies were pushed up against the slope by the FC. Otherwise, incoming eddies could be advected relatively unaffected by the current, when in the southern part of the straits. In absence of incoming eddies, submesoscale eddies were locally formed by the roll-up of superinertial barotropically unstable vorticity filaments when the FC was pushed up against the shelf slope. The vorticity filaments were intensified by the friction-induced bottom layer vorticity flux as previously demonstrated by Gula et al. (2015b) in the GS. When the FC retreated further south, negative vorticity West Florida Shelf waters overflowed into the SOF and led to the formation of submesocale eddies by baroclinic instability. The instability regimes, hence, the submesoscale frontal eddies formation appear to be controlled by the lateral ‘sloshing’ of the FC in the SoF.

Corresponding author: Laurent Chérubin, lcherubin@fau.edu
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