Surface gravity wave effects on submesoscale currents in the open ocean

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
  • | 2 Department of Marine Sciences, University of Connecticut, Groton, Connecticut.
  • | 3 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California.
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Abstract

A set of realistic coastal simulations in California allows for the exploration of surface gravity wave effects on currents (WEC) in an active submesoscale current regime. We use a new method that takes into account the full surface gravity wave spectrum and produces larger Stokes drift than the monochromatic peak-wave approximation. We investigate two high wave events lasting several days — one from a remotely generated swell and another associated with local wind-generated waves — and perform a systematic comparison between solutions with and without WEC at two submesoscale-resolving horizontal grid resolutions (dx = 270 m and 100 m). WEC results in the enhancement of open-ocean surface density and velocity gradients when the averaged significant wave height HS is relatively large (> 4.2m). For smaller waves, WEC is a minor effect overall. For the remote swell (strong waves and weak winds), WEC maintains submesoscale structures and accentuates the cyclonic vorticity and horizontal convergence skewness of submesoscale fronts and filaments. The vertical enstrophy ζ2 budget in cyclonic regions (ζ/f > 2) reveals enhanced vertical shear and enstrophy production via vortex tilting and stretching. Wind-forced waves also enhance surface gradients, up to the point where they generate a small-submesoscale roll-cell pattern with high vorticity and divergence that extends vertically through the entire mixed layer. The emergence of these roll-cells results in a buoyancy gradient sink near the surface that causes a modest reduction in the typically large submesoscale density gradients.

Corresponding author: Delphine Hypolite, dhypolite@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

A set of realistic coastal simulations in California allows for the exploration of surface gravity wave effects on currents (WEC) in an active submesoscale current regime. We use a new method that takes into account the full surface gravity wave spectrum and produces larger Stokes drift than the monochromatic peak-wave approximation. We investigate two high wave events lasting several days — one from a remotely generated swell and another associated with local wind-generated waves — and perform a systematic comparison between solutions with and without WEC at two submesoscale-resolving horizontal grid resolutions (dx = 270 m and 100 m). WEC results in the enhancement of open-ocean surface density and velocity gradients when the averaged significant wave height HS is relatively large (> 4.2m). For smaller waves, WEC is a minor effect overall. For the remote swell (strong waves and weak winds), WEC maintains submesoscale structures and accentuates the cyclonic vorticity and horizontal convergence skewness of submesoscale fronts and filaments. The vertical enstrophy ζ2 budget in cyclonic regions (ζ/f > 2) reveals enhanced vertical shear and enstrophy production via vortex tilting and stretching. Wind-forced waves also enhance surface gradients, up to the point where they generate a small-submesoscale roll-cell pattern with high vorticity and divergence that extends vertically through the entire mixed layer. The emergence of these roll-cells results in a buoyancy gradient sink near the surface that causes a modest reduction in the typically large submesoscale density gradients.

Corresponding author: Delphine Hypolite, dhypolite@atmos.ucla.edu
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