Formation of eastern boundary undercurrents via mesoscale eddy rectification

Andrew L. Stewart aDepartment of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA

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Yan Wang bDepartment of Ocean Science, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China
cCenter for Ocean Research in Hong Kong and Macau, The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Hong Kong, China

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Aviv Solodoch aDepartment of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA
dInstitute of Earth Sciences, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Rehovot, Center District Israel

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Ru Chen eSchool of Marine Science and Technology, Tianjin University, Tianjin, China

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James C. McWilliams aDepartment of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California, USA

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Abstract

Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUSs) host equatorward wind-driven near-surface currents overlying poleward subsurface undercurrents. Various previous theories for these undercurrents have emphasized the role of poleward alongshore pressure gradient forces (APF). Energetic mesoscale variability may also serve to accelerate undercurrents via mesoscale stirring of the potential vorticity gradient imposed by the continental slope. However, it remains unclear whether this eddy rectification mechanism contributes substantially to driving poleward undercurrents in EBUS. This study isolates the influence of eddy rectification on undercurrents via a suite of idealized simulations forced either by alongshore winds, with or without an APF, or by randomly-generated mesoscale eddies. It is found that the simulations develop undercurrents with strengths comparable to those found in nature in both wind-forced and randomly forced experiments. Analysis of the momentum budget reveals that the along-isobath undercurrent flow is accelerated by isopycnal advective eddy momentum fluxes and the APF, and retarded by frictional drag. The undercurrent acceleration may manifest as eddy momentum fluxes or as topographic form stress depending on the coordinate system used to compute the momentum budget, which reconciles these findings with previous work that linked eddy acceleration of the undercurrent to topographic form stress. The leading-order momentum balance motivates a scaling for the strength of the undercurrent that explains most of the variance across the simulations. These findings indicate that eddy rectification is of comparable importance to the APF in driving poleward undercurrents in EBUSs, and motivate further work to diagnose this effect in high-resolution models and observations, and to parameterize it in coarse-resolution ocean/climate models.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This is an Author Accepted Manuscript distributed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Andrew L. Stewart, astewart@atmos.ucla.edu

Abstract

Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (EBUSs) host equatorward wind-driven near-surface currents overlying poleward subsurface undercurrents. Various previous theories for these undercurrents have emphasized the role of poleward alongshore pressure gradient forces (APF). Energetic mesoscale variability may also serve to accelerate undercurrents via mesoscale stirring of the potential vorticity gradient imposed by the continental slope. However, it remains unclear whether this eddy rectification mechanism contributes substantially to driving poleward undercurrents in EBUS. This study isolates the influence of eddy rectification on undercurrents via a suite of idealized simulations forced either by alongshore winds, with or without an APF, or by randomly-generated mesoscale eddies. It is found that the simulations develop undercurrents with strengths comparable to those found in nature in both wind-forced and randomly forced experiments. Analysis of the momentum budget reveals that the along-isobath undercurrent flow is accelerated by isopycnal advective eddy momentum fluxes and the APF, and retarded by frictional drag. The undercurrent acceleration may manifest as eddy momentum fluxes or as topographic form stress depending on the coordinate system used to compute the momentum budget, which reconciles these findings with previous work that linked eddy acceleration of the undercurrent to topographic form stress. The leading-order momentum balance motivates a scaling for the strength of the undercurrent that explains most of the variance across the simulations. These findings indicate that eddy rectification is of comparable importance to the APF in driving poleward undercurrents in EBUSs, and motivate further work to diagnose this effect in high-resolution models and observations, and to parameterize it in coarse-resolution ocean/climate models.

© 2024 American Meteorological Society. This is an Author Accepted Manuscript distributed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Andrew L. Stewart, astewart@atmos.ucla.edu
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