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Yiming Guo, Stuart Bishop, Frank Bryan, and Scott Bachman

Abstract

We use an interannually forced version of the Parallel Ocean Program, configured to resolve mesoscale eddies, to close the global eddy potential energy (EPE) budget associated with temperature variability. By closing the EPE budget, we are able to properly investigate the role of diabatic processes in modulating mesoscale energetics in the context of other processes driving eddy–mean flow interactions. A Helmholtz decomposition of the eddy heat flux field into divergent and rotational components is applied to estimate the baroclinic conversion from mean to eddy potential energy. In doing so, an approximate two-way balance between the “divergent” baroclinic conversion and upgradient vertical eddy heat fluxes in the ocean interior is revealed, in accordance with baroclinic instability and the relaxation of isopycnal slopes. However, in the mixed layer, the EPE budget is greatly modulated by diabatic mixing, with air–sea interactions and interior diffusion playing comparable roles. Globally, this accounts for ∼60% of EPE converted to EKE (eddy kinetic energy), with the remainder being dissipated by air–sea interactions and interior mixing. A seasonal composite of baroclinic energy conversions shows that the strongest EPE to EKE conversion occurs during the summer in both hemispheres. The seasonally varying diabatic processes in the upper ocean are further shown to be closely linked to this EPE–EKE conversion seasonality, but with a lead. The peak energy dissipation through vertical mixing occurs ahead of the minimum EKE generation by 1–2 months.

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Jiabi Du, Weifeng (Gordon) Zhang, and Yizhen Li

Abstract

Intruding slope water is a major source of nutrients to sustain the high biological productivity in the Gulf of Maine (GoM). Slope water intrusion into the GoM is affected by Gulf Stream warm-core rings (WCRs) impinging onto the nearby shelf edge. This study combines long-term mooring measurements, satellite remote sensing data, an idealized numerical ocean model, and a linear coastal-trapped wave (CTW) model to examine the impact of WCRs on slope water intrusion into the GoM through the Northeast Channel. Analysis of satellite sea surface height and temperature data shows that the slope sea region off the GoM is a hotspot of ring activities. A significant linear relationship is found between interannual variations of ring activities in the slope sea region off the GoM and bottom salinity at the Northeast Channel, suggesting the importance of WCRs in modulating variability of intruding slope water. Analysis of the mooring data reveals enhanced slope water intrusion through bottom-intensified along-channel flow following impingements of WCRs on the nearby shelf edge. Numerical simulations qualitatively reproduce the observed WCR impingement processes and associated episodic enhancement of slope water intrusion in the Northeast Channel. Diagnosis of the model result indicates that baroclinic CTWs excited by the ring–topography interaction are responsible for the episodically intensified subsurface along-channel inflow, which carries more slope water into the GoM. A WCR that impinges onto the shelf edge to the northeast of the Northeast Channel tends to generate stronger CTWs and cause stronger enhancement of the slope water intrusion into the GoM.

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Igor Kamenkovich and Zulema Garraffo

Abstract

The Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) plays a key role in climate due to uptake and redistribution of heat and carbon anomalies. This redistribution takes place along several main pathways that link the high-latitude North Atlantic with midlatitudes and the Southern Ocean and involves currents on a wide range of spatial scales. This numerical study examines the importance of mesoscale currents (“eddies”) in these AMOC pathways and associated time scales, using a highly efficient offline tracer model. The study uses two boundary impulse response (BIR) tracers, which can quantify the importance of the Atlantic tracer exchanges with the high-latitude atmosphere in the north and with the Southern Ocean in the south. The results demonstrate that mesoscale advection leads to an increase in the overall BIR inventory during the first 100 years and results in a more efficient and spatially uniform ventilation of the deep Atlantic. Mesoscale currents also facilitate meridional spreading of the BIR tracer and thus assist the large-scale advection. The results point toward the importance of spatial inhomogeneity and anisotropy of the eddy-induced mixing in several mixing “hotspots,” as revealed by an eddy diffusivity tensor. Conclusions can be expected to assist evaluations of eddy-permitting simulations that stop short of full resolution of mesoscale, as well as development of eddy parameterization schemes.

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Catherine A. Vreugdenhil, John R. Taylor, Peter E. D. Davis, Keith W. Nicholls, Paul R. Holland, and Adrian Jenkins

Abstract

The melt rate of Antarctic ice shelves is of key importance for rising sea levels and future climate scenarios. Recent observations beneath Larsen C Ice Shelf revealed an ocean boundary layer that was highly turbulent and raised questions on the effect of these rich flow dynamics on the ocean heat transfer and the ice shelf melt rate. Directly motivated by the field observations, we have conducted large-eddy simulations (LES) to further examine the ocean boundary layer beneath Larsen C Ice Shelf. The LES was initialized with uniform temperature and salinity (T–S) and included a realistic tidal cycle and a small basal slope. A new parameterization based on previous work was applied at the top boundary to model near-wall turbulence and basal melting. The resulting vertical T–S profiles, melt rate, and friction velocity matched well with the Larsen C Ice Shelf observations. The instantaneous melt rate varied strongly with the tidal cycle, with faster flow increasing the turbulence and mixing of heat toward the ice base. An Ekman layer formed beneath the ice base and, due to the strong vertical shear of the current, Ekman rolls appeared in the mixed layer and stratified region (depth ≈ 20–60 m). In an additional high-resolution simulation (conducted with a smaller domain) the Ekman rolls were associated with increased turbulent kinetic energy, but a relatively small vertical heat flux. Our results will help with interpreting field observations and parameterizing the ocean-driven basal melting of ice shelves.

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Lauren Hoffman, Matthew R. Mazloff, Sarah T. Gille, Donata Giglio, and Aniruddh Varadarajan

Abstract

Atmospheric rivers (ARs) result in precipitation over land and ocean. Rainfall on the ocean can generate a buoyant layer of freshwater that impacts exchanges between the surface and the mixed layer. These “fresh lenses” are important for weather and climate because they may impact the ocean stratification at all time scales. Here we use in situ ocean data, collocated with AR events, and a one-dimensional configuration of a general circulation model, to investigate the impact of AR precipitation on surface ocean salinity in the California Current System (CCS) on seasonal and event-based time scales. We find that at coastal and onshore locations the CCS freshens through the rainy season due to AR events, and years with higher AR activity are associated with a stronger freshening signal. On shorter time scales, model simulations suggest that events characteristic of CCS ARs can produce salinity changes that are detectable by ocean instruments (≥0.01 psu). Here, the surface salinity change depends linearly on rain rate and inversely on wind speed. Higher wind speeds (U > 8 m s−1) induce mixing, distributing freshwater inputs to depths greater than 20 m. Lower wind speeds (U ≤ 8 m s−1) allow freshwater lenses to remain at the surface. Results suggest that local precipitation is important in setting the freshwater seasonal cycle of the CCS and that the formation of freshwater lenses should be considered for identifying impacts of atmospheric variability on the upper ocean in the CCS on weather event time scales.

Significance Statement

Atmospheric rivers produce large amounts of rainfall. The purpose of this study is to understand how this rain impacts the surface ocean in the California Current System on seasonal and event time scales. Our results show that a greater precipitation over the rainy season leads to a larger decrease in salinity over time. On shorter time scales, these atmospheric river precipitation events commonly produce a surface salinity response that is detectable by ocean instruments. This salinity response depends on the amount of rainfall and the wind speed. In general, higher wind speeds will cause the freshwater input from rain to mix deeper, while lower wind speeds will have reduced mixing, allowing a layer of freshwater to persist at the surface.

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Larry T. Gulliver and Timour Radko

Abstract

This study explores the dynamics of intense coherent vortices in large-scale vertically sheared flows. We develop an analytical theory for vortex propagation and validate it by a series of numerical simulations. Simulations are conducted using both stable and baroclinically unstable zonal background flows. We find that vortices in stable westward currents tend to adjust to an equilibrium state characterized by quasi-uniform zonal propagation. These vortices persist for long periods, during which they propagate thousands of kilometers from their points of origin. The adjustment tendency is realized to a much lesser extent in eastward background flows. These findings may help to explain the longevity of the observed oceanic vortices embedded in predominantly westward flows. Finally, we examine the influence of background mesoscale variability induced by baroclinic instability of large-scale flows on the propagation and persistence of isolated vortices.

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Romain Caneill, Fabien Roquet, Gurvan Madec, and Jonas Nycander

Abstract

The stratification is primarily controlled by temperature in subtropical regions (alpha ocean) and by salinity in subpolar regions (beta ocean). Between these two regions lies a transition zone, often characterized by deep mixed layers in winter and responsible for the ventilation of intermediate or deep layers. While of primary interest, no consensus on what controls its position exists yet. Among the potential candidates, we find the wind distribution, air–sea fluxes, or the nonlinear cabbeling effect. Using an ocean general circulation model in an idealized basin configuration, a sensitivity analysis is performed testing different equations of state. More precisely, the thermal expansion coefficient (TEC) temperature dependence is explored, changing the impact of heat fluxes on buoyancy fluxes in a series of experiments. The polar transition zone is found to be located at the position where the sign of the surface buoyancy flux reverses to become positive, in the subpolar region, while wind or cabbeling are likely of secondary importance. This inversion becomes possible because the TEC is reducing at low temperature, enhancing in return the relative impact of freshwater fluxes on the buoyancy forcing at high latitudes. When the TEC is made artificially larger at low temperature, the freshwater flux required to produce a positive buoyancy flux increases and the polar transition moves poleward. These experimets demonstrate the important role of competing heat and freshwater fluxes in setting the position of the transition zone. This competition is primarily influenced by the spatial variations of the TEC linked to meridional variations of the surface temperature.

Open access
Julie Jakoboski, Robert E. Todd, W. Brechner Owens, Kristopher B. Karnauskas, and Daniel L. Rudnick

Abstract

The Galápagos Archipelago lies on the equator in the path of the eastward flowing Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC). When the EUC reaches the archipelago, it upwells and bifurcates into a north and south branch around the archipelago at a latitude determined by topography. Since the Coriolis parameter (f) equals zero at the equator, strong velocity gradients associated with the EUC can result in Ertel potential vorticity (Q) having sign opposite that of planetary vorticity near the equator. Observations collected by underwater gliders deployed just west of the Galápagos Archipelago during 2013–16 are used to estimate Q and to diagnose associated instabilities that may impact the Galápagos Cold Pool. Estimates of Q are qualitatively conserved along streamlines, consistent with the 2.5-layer, inertial model of the EUC by Pedlosky. The Q with sign opposite of f is advected south of the Galápagos Archipelago when the EUC core is located south of the bifurcation latitude. The horizontal gradient of Q suggests that the region between 2°S and 2°N above 100 m is barotropically unstable, while limited regions are baroclinically unstable. Conditions conducive to symmetric instability are observed between the EUC core and the equator and within the southern branch of the undercurrent. Using 2-month and 3-yr averages, e-folding time scales are 2–11 days, suggesting that symmetric instability can persist on those time scales.

Significance Statement

The Pacific Ocean contains fast-moving currents near the equator and below the surface that result in instabilities and mixing. The Galápagos Archipelago lies directly in the path of the eastward-flowing Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent. There are few observations of what happens to the current when it reaches the Galápagos Archipelago, so theories and models of the instabilities and mixing resulting from these strong currents have not been well verified. The Repeat Observations by Gliders in the Equatorial Region (ROGER) project deployed autonomous underwater gliders to observe the current system in this region. The results show that a range of instabilities may be responsible for the cold sea surface temperature of the Galápagos Cold Pool and the generation of tropical instability waves.

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Jacob M. Steinberg, Sylvia T. Cole, Kyla Drushka, and Ryan P. Abernathey

Abstract

Oceanic mesoscale motions including eddies, meanders, fronts, and filaments comprise a dominant fraction of oceanic kinetic energy and contribute to the redistribution of tracers in the ocean such as heat, salt, and nutrients. This reservoir of mesoscale energy is regulated by the conversion of potential energy and transfers of kinetic energy across spatial scales. Whether and under what circumstances mesoscale turbulence precipitates forward or inverse cascades, and the rates of these cascades, remain difficult to directly observe and quantify despite their impacts on physical and biological processes. Here we use global observations to investigate the seasonality of surface kinetic energy and upper-ocean potential energy. We apply spatial filters to along-track satellite measurements of sea surface height to diagnose surface eddy kinetic energy across 60–300-km scales. A geographic and scale-dependent seasonal cycle appears throughout much of the midlatitudes, with eddy kinetic energy at scales less than 60 km peaking 1–4 months before that at 60–300-km scales. Spatial patterns in this lag align with geographic regions where an Argo-derived estimate of the conversion of potential to kinetic energy is seasonally varying. In midlatitudes, the conversion rate peaks 0–2 months prior to kinetic energy at scales less than 60 km. The consistent geographic patterns between the seasonality of potential energy conversion and kinetic energy across spatial scale provide observational evidence for the inverse cascade and demonstrate that some component of it is seasonally modulated. Implications for mesoscale parameterizations and numerical modeling are discussed.

Significance Statement

This study investigates the seasonality of upper-ocean potential and kinetic energy in the context of an inverse cascade, consisting of energy transfers to and through the mesoscale. Observations show a scale-dependent cycle in kinetic energy that coincides with temporal variability in mixed layer potential energy and progresses seasonally from smaller to larger scales. This pattern appears dominant over large regions of the ocean. Results are relevant to ocean and climate models, where a large fraction of ocean energy is often parameterized. A customizable code repository and dataset are provided to enable comparisons of model-based resolved and unresolved kinetic energy to observational equivalents. Implications result for a range of processes including mixed layer stratification and vertical structure of ocean currents.

Open access
Motoki Nagura and Satoshi Osafune

Abstract

Many previous studies of midlatitude Rossby waves have examined satellite altimetry data, which reflect variability near the surface above the pycnocline. Argo float observations provide hydrographic data in the upper 2000 m, which likely monitor subsurface variability below the pycnocline. This study examines the variability in meridional velocity at midlatitudes and investigates Rossby waves in the southern Indian Ocean using an ocean reanalysis generated by a 4DVAR method. The results show two modes of variability. One is trapped near the surface and propagates to the west at a phase speed close to that of first baroclinic mode Rossby waves. This mode is representative of variability detected by satellite altimetry. The other mode has a local peak in amplitude at ∼600-m depth and propagates to the west at a phase speed 3 times slower than the first baroclinic mode. Such slowly propagating signals are observed globally, but they are largest in amplitude in the southern Indian Ocean and consistent in phase speed with the second baroclinic mode. Results from numerical experiments using an OGCM show that zonal winds in the tropical Pacific Ocean related to ENSO are the primary driver of slowly propagating signals in the southern Indian Ocean. Wind forcing in the tropical Pacific Ocean drives a surface trapped jet that propagates via the Indonesian Archipelago and excites subsurface variability in meridional velocity in the southern Indian Ocean. In addition, surface heat flux and meridional winds near the west coast of Australia can drive subsurface variability.

Significance Statement

Many previous studies of midlatitude Rossby waves have used satellite altimetry measurements, which reflect variability in the upper few hundred meters of the ocean. Argo float observations have provided in situ hydrographic observations in the upper 2000 m, and these enable us to examine subsurface variability with high reliability. In this study, we used output from an ocean reanalysis, which assimilates in situ observations, and found that the meridional velocity below the surface (∼600-m depth) of the southern Indian Ocean propagates at a phase speed 3 times slower than that of surface variability. These slowly propagating signals can be of climatic importance because of their possible impact on meridional heat transport. We also discuss the driving force of these slowly propagating signals.

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