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Motoki Nagura and Michael J. McPhaden

Abstract

This study examines interannual variability in sea surface height (SSH) at southern midlatitudes of the Indian Ocean (10°–35°S). Our focus is on the relative role of local wind forcing and remote forcing from the equatorial Pacific Ocean. We use satellite altimetry measurements, an atmospheric reanalysis, and a one-dimensional wave model tuned to simulate observed SSH anomalies. The model solution is decomposed into the part driven by local winds and that driven by SSH variability radiated from the western coast of Australia. Results show that variability radiated from the Australian coast is larger in amplitude than variability driven by local winds in the central and eastern parts of the south Indian Ocean at midlatitudes (between 19° and 33°S), whereas the influence from eastern boundary forcing is confined to the eastern basin at lower latitudes (10° and 17°S). The relative importance of eastern boundary forcing at midlatitudes is due to the weakness of wind stress curl anomalies in the interior of the south Indian Ocean. Our analysis further suggests that SSH variability along the west coast of Australia originates from remote wind forcing in the tropical Pacific, as is pointed out by previous studies. The zonal gradient of SSH between the western and eastern parts of the south Indian Ocean is also mostly controlled by variability radiated from the Australian coast, indicating that interannual variability in meridional geostrophic transport is driven principally by Pacific winds.

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Esther Capó, James C. McWilliams, Evan Mason, and Alejandro Orfila

Abstract

We present a phenomenological description and dynamical analysis of the Alboran fronts using a realistic simulation at submesoscale resolution. The study is focused on east Alboran fronts emerging within relatively strong flows that separate from the Spanish coast into the basin interior. Despite modest lateral shifting associated with the position of the Alboran anticyclonic gyres and variations in intensity, these fronts present a similar structure and dynamical configuration as the climatological Almeria–Oran front. The statistical analysis of our solution shows that strained-induced frontogenesis is a recurrent submesoscale mechanism associated with these fronts, and the process is assessed in terms of the advective Lagrangian frontogenetic tendencies associated with buoyancy and velocity horizontal gradients. Intermittency in their strength and patterns is indicative of high variability in the occurrence of active frontogenesis in association with the secondary (overturning) circulation across the frontal gradient. As a result, we find many episodes with strong surface fronts that do not have much associated downwelling. Frontogenesis and the associated secondary circulation are further explored during two particular frontal events, both showing strong downwelling of O(1) cm s−1 extending down into the pycnocline. A frontogenetic contribution of turbulent vertical momentum mixing to the secondary circulation is identified in the easternmost region during the cold season, when the dynamics are strongly influenced by the intrusion of the salty Northern Current. The background vertical velocity fields observed during the analyzed events indicate other currents in the submesoscale range, including tidal and topographic internal waves.

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Christopher G. Piecuch, Ichiro Fukumori, and Rui M. Ponte

Abstract

Satellite observations are used to establish the dominant magnitudes, scales, and mechanisms of intraseasonal variability in ocean dynamic sea level (ζ) in the Persian Gulf over 2002–15. Empirical orthogonal function (EOF) analysis applied to altimetry data reveals a basinwide, single-signed intraseasonal fluctuation that contributes importantly to ζ variance in the Persian Gulf at monthly to decadal time scales. An EOF analysis of Gravity Recovery and Climate Experiment (GRACE) observations over the same period returns a similar large-scale mode of intraseasonal variability, suggesting that the basinwide intraseasonal ζ variation has a predominantly barotropic nature. A linear barotropic theory is developed to interpret the data. The theory represents Persian Gulf average ζ (ζ¯) in terms of local freshwater flux, barometric pressure, and wind stress forcing, as well as ζ at the boundary in the Gulf of Oman. The theory is tested using a multiple linear regression with these freshwater flux, barometric pressure, wind stress, and boundary ζ quantities as input and ζ¯ as output. The regression explains 70% ± 9% (95% confidence interval) of the intraseasonal ζ¯ variance. Numerical values of regression coefficients computed empirically from the data are consistent with theoretical expectations from first principles. Results point to a substantial nonisostatic response to surface loading. The Gulf of Oman ζ boundary condition shows lagged correlation with ζ upstream along the Indian subcontinent, Maritime Continent, and equatorial Indian Ocean, suggesting a large-scale Indian Ocean influence on intraseasonal ζ¯ variation mediated by coastal and equatorial waves and hinting at potential predictability. This study highlights the value of GRACE for understanding sea level in an understudied marginal sea.

Open access
C. S. Jones and Ryan P. Abernathey

Abstract

Paleoproxy observations suggest that deep-ocean water-mass distributions were different at the Last Glacial Maximum than they are today. However, even modern deep-ocean water-mass distributions are not completely explained by observations of the modern ocean circulation. This paper investigates two processes that influence deep-ocean water-mass distributions: 1) interior downwelling caused by vertical mixing that increases in the downward direction and 2) isopycnal mixing. Passive tracers are used to assess how changes in the circulation and in the isopycnal-mixing coefficient impact deep-ocean water-mass distributions in an idealized two-basin model. We compare two circulations, one in which the upper cell of the overturning reaches to 4000-m depth and one in which it shoals to 2500-m depth. Previous work suggests that in the latter case the upper cell and the abyssal cell of the overturning are separate structures. Nonetheless, high concentrations of North Atlantic Water (NAW) are found in our model’s abyssal cell: these tracers are advected into the abyssal cell by interior downwelling caused by our vertical mixing profile, which increases in the downward direction. Further experiments suggest that the NAW concentration in the deep South Atlantic Ocean and in the deep Pacific Ocean is influenced by the isopycnal-mixing coefficient in the top 2000 m of the Southern Ocean. Both the strength and the vertical profile of isopycnal mixing are important for setting deep-ocean tracer concentrations. A 1D advection–diffusion model elucidates how NAW concentration depends on advective and diffusive processes.

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Tomas Chor, James C. McWilliams, and Marcelo Chamecki

Abstract

The K-profile parameterization (KPP) is a common method to model turbulent fluxes in regional and global oceanic models. Many versions of KPP exist in the oceanic sciences community, and one of their main differences is how they take the effects of nonbreaking waves into account. Although there is qualitative consensus that nonbreaking waves enhance vertical mixing due to the ensuing Langmuir circulations, there is no consensus on the quantitative aspects and modeling approach. In this paper we use a recently developed method to estimate both components of KPP (the diffusive term, usually called local, and the nondiffusive component, usually called nonlocal) based on numerically simulated turbulent fluxes without any a priori assumptions about their scaling or their shape. Through this method we show that the cubic shape usually used in KPP is not optimal for wavy situations and propose new ones. Furthermore, we show that the formulation for the nondiffusive fluxes, which currently only depend on the presence of surface buoyancy fluxes, should also take wave effects into account. We also investigate how the application of these changes to KPP improves the representation of turbulent fluxes in a diagnostic approach when compared with previous models.

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Anna-Lena Deppenmeier, Frank O. Bryan, William S. Kessler, and LuAnne Thompson

Abstract

The tropical Pacific Ocean cold tongue (CT) plays a major role in the global climate system. The strength of the CT sets the zonal temperature gradient in the Pacific that couples with the atmospheric Walker circulation. This coupling is an essential component of the El Niño–Southern Oscillation (ENSO). The CT is supplied with cold water by the Equatorial Undercurrent that follows the thermocline as it shoals toward the east, adiabatically transporting cold water toward the surface. As the thermocline shoals, its water is transformed through diabatic processes, producing water mass transformation (WMT) that allows water to cross mean isotherms. Here, we examine WMT in the cold-tongue region from a global high-resolution ocean simulation with saved budget terms that close its heat budget exactly. Using the terms of the heat budget, we quantify each individual component of WMT (vertical mixing, horizontal mixing, eddy fluxes, and solar penetration) and find that vertical mixing is the single most important contribution in the thermocline and solar heating dominates close to the surface. Horizontal diffusion is much smaller. During El Niño events, vertical mixing, and hence cross-isothermal flow as a whole, are much reduced, whereas, during La Niña periods, strong vertical mixing leads to strong WMT, thereby cooling the surface. This analysis demonstrates the enhancement of diabatic processes during cold events, which in turn enhances cooling of the CT from below the surface.

Open access
Gregory L. Wagner, Gregory P. Chini, Ali Ramadhan, Basile Gallet, and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Between 5% and 25% of the total momentum transferred between the atmosphere and ocean is transmitted via the growth of long surface gravity waves called “swell.” In this paper, we use large-eddy simulations to show that swell-transmitted momentum excites near-inertial waves and drives turbulent mixing that deepens a rotating, stratified, turbulent ocean surface boundary layer. We find that swell-transmitted currents are less effective at producing turbulence and mixing the boundary layer than currents driven by an effective surface stress. Overall, however, the differences between swell-driven and surface-stress-driven boundary layers are relatively minor. In consequence, our results corroborate assumptions made in Earth system models that neglect the vertical structure of swell-transmitted momentum fluxes and instead parameterize all air–sea momentum transfer processes with an effective surface stress.

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D. A. Cherian, D. B. Whitt, R. M. Holmes, R.-C. Lien, S. D. Bachman, and W. G. Large

Abstract

The equatorial Pacific cold tongue is a site of large heat absorption by the ocean. This heat uptake is enhanced by a daily cycle of shear turbulence beneath the mixed layer—“deep-cycle turbulence”—that removes heat from the sea surface and deposits it in the upper flank of the Equatorial Undercurrent. Deep-cycle turbulence results when turbulence is triggered daily in sheared and stratified flow that is marginally stable (gradient Richardson number Ri ≈ 0.25). Deep-cycle turbulence has been observed on numerous occasions in the cold tongue at 0°, 140°W, and may be modulated by tropical instability waves (TIWs). Here we use a primitive equation regional simulation of the cold tongue to show that deep-cycle turbulence may also occur off the equator within TIW cold cusps where the flow is marginally stable. In the cold cusp, preexisting equatorial zonal shear u z is enhanced by horizontal vortex stretching near the equator, and subsequently modified by horizontal vortex tilting terms to generate meridional shear υ z off of the equator. Parameterized turbulence in the sheared flow of the cold cusp is triggered daily by the descent of the surface mixing layer associated with the weakening of the stabilizing surface buoyancy flux in the afternoon. Observational evidence for off-equatorial deep-cycle turbulence is restricted to a few CTD casts, which, when combined with shear from shipboard ADCP data, suggest the presence of marginally stable flow in TIW cold cusps. This study motivates further observational campaigns to characterize the modulation of deep-cycle turbulence by TIWs both on and off the equator.

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Andrew L. Stewart, James C. McWilliams, and Aviv Solodoch

Abstract

Previous studies have concluded that the wind-input vorticity in ocean gyres is balanced by bottom pressure torques (BPT), when integrated over latitude bands. However, the BPT must vanish when integrated over any area enclosed by an isobath. This constraint raises ambiguities regarding the regions over which BPT should close the vorticity budget, and implies that BPT generated to balance a local wind stress curl necessitates the generation of a compensating, nonlocal BPT and thus nonlocal circulation. This study aims to clarify the role of BPT in wind-driven gyres using an idealized isopycnal model. Experiments performed with a single-signed wind stress curl in an enclosed, sloped basin reveal that BPT balances the winds only when integrated over latitude bands. Integrating over other, dynamically motivated definitions of the gyre, such as barotropic streamlines, yields a balance between wind stress curl and bottom frictional torques. This implies that bottom friction plays a nonnegligible role in structuring the gyre circulation. Nonlocal bottom pressure torques manifest in the form of along-slope pressure gradients associated with a weak basin-scale circulation, and are associated with a transition to a balance between wind stress and bottom friction around the coasts. Finally, a suite of perturbation experiments is used to investigate the dynamics of BPT. To predict the BPT, the authors extend a previous theory that describes propagation of surface pressure signals from the gyre interior toward the coast along planetary potential vorticity contours. This theory is shown to agree closely with the diagnosed contributions to the vorticity budget across the suite of model experiments.

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Jody M. Klymak, Dhruv Balwada, Alberto Naveira Garabato, and Ryan Abernathey

Abstract

Slowly evolving stratified flow over rough topography is subject to substantial drag due to internal motions, but often numerical simulations are carried out at resolutions where this “wave” drag must be parameterized. Here we highlight the importance of internal drag from topography with scales that cannot radiate internal waves, but may be highly nonlinear, and we propose a simple parameterization of this drag that has a minimum of fit parameters compared to existing schemes. The parameterization smoothly transitions from a quadratic drag law (~hu02) for low Nh/u 0 (linear wave dynamics) to a linear drag law (~h2u0N) for high Nh/u 0 flows (nonlinear blocking and hydraulic dynamics), where N is the stratification, h is the height of the topography, and u 0 is the near-bottom velocity; the parameterization does not have a dependence on Coriolis frequency. Simulations carried out in a channel with synthetic bathymetry and steady body forcing indicate that this parameterization accurately predicts drag across a broad range of forcing parameters when the effect of reduced near-bottom mixing is taken into account by reducing the effective height of the topography. The parameterization is also tested in simulations of wind-driven channel flows that generate mesoscale eddy fields, a setup where the downstream transport is sensitive to the bottom drag parameterization and its effect on the eddies. In these simulations, the parameterization replicates the effect of rough bathymetry on the eddies. If extrapolated globally, the subinertial topographic scales can account for 2.7 TW of work done on the low-frequency circulation, an important sink that is redistributed to mixing in the open ocean.

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