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Thomas W. N. Haine

Abstract

The global ocean overturning circulation carries warm, salty water to high latitudes, both in the Arctic and Antarctic. Interaction with the atmosphere transforms this inflow into three distinct products: sea ice, surface Polar Water, and deep Overflow Water. The Polar Water and Overflow Water form estuarine and thermal overturning cells, stratified by salinity and temperature, respectively. A conceptual model specifies the characteristics of these water masses and cells given the inflow and air–sea–land fluxes of heat and freshwater. The model includes budgets of mass, salt, and heat, and parameterizations of Polar Water and Overflow Water formation, which include exchange with continental shelves. Model solutions are mainly controlled by a linear combination of air–sea–ice heat and freshwater fluxes and inflow heat flux that approximates the meteoric freshwater flux plus the sea ice export flux. The model shows that for the Arctic, the thermal overturning is likely robust, but the estuarine cell appears vulnerable to collapse via a so-called heat crisis that violates the budget equations. The system is pushed toward this crisis by increasing Atlantic Water inflow heat flux, increasing meteoric freshwater flux, and/or decreasing heat loss to the atmosphere. The Antarctic appears close to a so-called Overflow Water emergency with weak constraints on the strengths of the estuarine and thermal cells, uncertain sensitivity to parameters, and possibility of collapse of the thermal cell.

Open access
Xiaozhou Ruan and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Turbulent mixing across density surfaces transforms abyssal ocean waters into lighter waters and is vital to close the deepest branches of the global overturning circulation. Over the last 20 years, mixing rates inferred from in situ microstructure profilers and tracer release experiments (TREs) have provided valuable insights in the connection between small-scale mixing and large-scale ocean circulation. Problematically, estimates based on TREs consistently exceed those from collocated in situ microstructure measurements. These differences have been attributed to a low bias in the microstructure estimates that can miss strong, but rare, mixing events. Here we demonstrate that TRE estimates can suffer from a high bias, because of the approximations generally made to interpret the data. We first derive formulas to estimate mixing from the temporal growth of the second moment of a tracer patch by extending Taylor’s celebrated formula to account for both density stratification and variations in mixing rates. The formulas are validated with tracers released in numerical simulations of turbulent flows and then used to discuss biases in the interpretation of TREs based estimates and how to possibly overcome them.

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Zhihua Zheng, Ramsey R. Harcourt, and Eric A. D’Asaro

Abstract

Monin–Obukhov similarity theory (MOST) provides important scaling laws for flow properties in the surface layer of the atmosphere and has contributed to most of our understanding of the near-surface turbulence. The prediction of near-surface vertical mixing in most operational ocean models is largely built upon this theory. However, the validity of MOST in the upper ocean is questionable due to the demonstrated importance of surface waves in the region. Here we examine the validity of MOST in the statically unstable oceanic surface layer, using data collected from two open ocean sites with different wave conditions. The observed vertical temperature gradients are found to be about half of those predicted by MOST. We hypothesize this is attributable to either the breaking of surface waves, or Langmuir turbulence generated by the wave–current interaction. Existing turbulence closure models for surface wave breaking and for Langmuir turbulence are simplified to test these two hypotheses. Although both models predict reduced temperature gradients, the simplified Langmuir turbulence model matches observations more closely, when appropriately tuned.

Open access
Isabela Le Bras, Fiamma Straneo, Morven Muilwijk, Lars H. Smedsrud, Feili Li, M. Susan Lozier, and N. Penny Holliday

Abstract

Fresh Arctic waters flowing into the Atlantic are thought to have two primary fates. They may be mixed into the deep ocean as part of the overturning circulation, or flow alongside regions of deep water formation without impacting overturning. Climate models suggest that as increasing amounts of freshwater enter the Atlantic, the overturning circulation will be disrupted, yet we lack an understanding of how much freshwater is mixed into the overturning circulation’s deep limb in the present day. To constrain these freshwater pathways, we build steady-state volume, salt, and heat budgets east of Greenland that are initialized with observations and closed using inverse methods. Freshwater sources are split into oceanic Polar Waters from the Arctic and surface freshwater fluxes, which include net precipitation, runoff, and ice melt, to examine how they imprint the circulation differently. We find that 65 mSv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) of the total 110 mSv of surface freshwater fluxes that enter our domain participate in the overturning circulation, as do 0.6 Sv of the total 1.2 Sv of Polar Waters that flow through Fram Strait. Based on these results, we hypothesize that the overturning circulation is more sensitive to future changes in Arctic freshwater outflow and precipitation, while Greenland runoff and iceberg melt are more likely to stay along the coast of Greenland.

Open access
Hailu Kong and Malte F. Jansen

Abstract

It remains uncertain how the Southern Ocean circulation responds to changes in surface wind stress, and whether coarse-resolution simulations, where mesoscale eddy fluxes are parameterized, can adequately capture the response. We address this problem using two idealized model setups mimicking the Southern Ocean: a flat-bottom channel and a channel with moderately complex topography. Under each topographic configuration and varying wind stress, we compare several coarse-resolution simulations, configured with different eddy parameterizations, against an eddy-resolving simulation. We find that 1) without topography, sensitivity of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) to wind stress is overestimated by coarse-resolution simulations, due to an underestimate of the sensitivity of the eddy diffusivity; 2) in the presence of topography, stationary eddies dominate over transient eddies in counteracting the direct response of the ACC and overturning circulation to wind stress changes; and 3) coarse-resolution simulations with parameterized eddies capture this counteracting effect reasonably well, largely due to their ability to resolve stationary eddies. Our results highlight the importance of topography in modulating the response of the Southern Ocean circulation to changes in surface wind stress. The interaction between mesoscale eddies and stationary meanders induced by topography requires more attention in future development and testing of eddy parameterizations.

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Yanxu Chen, David Straub, and Louis-Philippe Nadeau

Abstract

A new coupled model is developed to investigate interactions among geostrophic, Ekman, and near-inertial (NI) flows. The model couples a time-dependent nonlinear slab Ekman layer with a two-layer shallow water model. Wind stress forces the slab layer and horizontal divergence of slab-layer transport appears as a forcing in the continuity equation of the shallow water model. In one version of the slab model, self-advection of slab-layer momentum is retained and in another it is not. The most obvious impact of this explicit representation of the surface-layer dynamics is in the high-frequency part of the flow. For example, near-inertial oscillations are significantly stronger when self-advection of slab-layer momentum is retained, this being true both for the slab-layer flow itself and for the interior flow that it excites. In addition, retaining the self-advection terms leads to a new instability, which causes growth of slab-layer near-inertial oscillations in regions of anticyclonic forcing and decay in regions of cyclonic forcing. In contrast to inertial instability, it is the sign of the forcing, not that of the underlying vorticity, that determines stability. High-passed surface pressure fields are also examined and show the surface signature of unbalanced flow to differ substantially depending on whether a slab-layer model is used and, if so, whether self-advection of slab-layer momentum is retained.

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Johan Nilsson, David Ferreira, Tapio Schneider, and Robert C. J. Wills

Abstract

The high Atlantic surface salinity has sometimes been interpreted as a signature of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation and an associated salt advection feedback. Here, the role of oceanic and atmospheric processes for creating the surface salinity difference between the Atlantic and Indo-Pacific is examined using observations and a conceptual model. In each basin, zonally averaged data are represented in diagrams relating net evaporation E˜ and surface salinity S. The data-pair curves in the E˜S plane share common features in both basins. However, the slopes of the curves are generally smaller in the Atlantic than in the Indo-Pacific, indicating a weaker sensitivity of the Atlantic surface salinity to net evaporation variations. To interpret these observations, a conceptual advective–diffusive model of the upper-ocean salinity is constructed. Notably, the E˜S relations can be qualitatively reproduced with only meridional diffusive salt transport. In this limit, the interbasin difference in salinity is caused by the spatial structure of net evaporation, which in the Indo-Pacific oceans contains lower meridional wavenumbers that are weakly damped by the diffusive transport. The observed Atlantic E˜S relationship at the surface reveals no clear influence of northward advection associated with the meridional overturning circulation; however, a signature of northward advection emerges in the relationship when the salinity is vertically averaged over the upper kilometer. The results indicate that the zonal-mean near-surface salinity is shaped primarily by the spatial pattern of net evaporation and the diffusive meridional salt transport due to wind-driven gyres and mesoscale ocean eddies, rather than by salt advection within the meridional overturning circulation.

Open access
Haiyuan Yang, Lixin Wu, Ping Chang, Bo Qiu, Zhao Jing, Qiuying Zhang, and Zhaohui Chen

Abstract

Using eddy-resolving Community Earth System Model (CESM) simulations, this study investigates mesoscale energetics and air–sea interaction at two different time-scale windows in the Kuroshio Extension (KE) region. Based on an energy budget analysis, it is found that both baroclinic and barotropic pathways contribute to eddy energy generation within the low-frequency window (longer than 3 weeks) in this region, while both air–sea heat fluxes and wind stresses act as prominent eddy killers that remove energy from the ocean. In contrast, within the high-frequency window oceanic variability is mainly fed by baroclinic instability and regulated by turbulent thermal wind (TTW) processes, while the positive wind work is derived primarily from ageostrophic flow, i.e., Ekman drift, and along with air–sea heat fluxes has little influence on geostrophic mesoscale eddies.

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Linlin Zhang, Yuchao Hui, Tangdong Qu, and Dunxin Hu

Abstract

Seasonal modulation of subthermocline eddy kinetic energy (EKE) east of the Philippines and its associated dynamics are studied, using mooring measurements and outputs from an eddy-resolving ocean general circulation model for the period from 2000 to 2017. Significantly high EKE appears below the thermocline in the latitude band between 5° and 14°N east of the Philippines. Separated by 10°N, the EKE in the northern and southern parts of the region shows nearly opposite seasonal cycles, with its magnitude reaching a maximum in early spring and minimum in summer in the northern part and reaching a maximum in summer and minimum in winter in the southern part of the region. Further investigation indicates that both baroclinic and barotropic instabilities are essential in generating the subthermocline eddies, but the seasonal variation of subthermocline EKE is mainly caused by the seasonal modulation of barotropic instability. The seasonal modulation of barotropic instability in the northern and southern part of the region is associated with the seasonal evolution of North Equatorial Undercurrent and Halmahera Eddy, respectively.

Open access
Alice Pietri, Xavier Capet, Francesco d’Ovidio, Marina Levy, Julien Le Sommer, Jean-Marc Molines, and Hervé Giordani

Abstract

The quasigeostrophic and the generalized omega equations are the most widely used methods to reconstruct vertical velocity w from in situ data. As observational networks with much higher spatial and temporal resolutions are being designed, the question arises of identifying the approximations and scales at which an accurate estimation of w through the omega equation can be achieved and what critical scales and observables are needed. In this paper we test different adiabatic omega reconstructions of w over several regions representative of main oceanic regimes of the global ocean in a fully eddy-resolving numerical simulation with a 1/60° horizontal resolution. We find that the best reconstructions are observed in conditions characterized by energetic turbulence and/or weak stratification where near-surface frontal processes are felt deep into the ocean interior. The quasigeostrophic omega equation gives satisfactory results for scales larger than ~10 km horizontally while the improvements using a generalized formulation are substantial only in conditions where frontal turbulent processes are important (providing improvements with satisfactory reconstruction skill down to ~5 km in scale). The main sources of uncertainties that could be identified are related to processes responsible for ocean thermal wind imbalance (TWI), which is particularly difficult to account for (especially in observation-based studies) and to the deep flow that is generally improperly accounted for in omega reconstructions through the bottom boundary condition. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of mesoscale vertical velocities may be sufficient to estimate vertical fluxes of oceanic properties in many cases of practical interest.

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