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Leo Middleton, Catherine A. Vreugdenhil, Paul R. Holland, and John R. Taylor

Abstract

The transport of heat and salt through turbulent ice shelf–ocean boundary layers is a large source of uncertainty within ocean models of ice shelf cavities. This study uses small-scale, high-resolution, 3D numerical simulations to model an idealized boundary layer beneath a melting ice shelf to investigate the influence of ambient turbulence on double-diffusive convection (i.e., convection driven by the difference in diffusivities between salinity and temperature). Isotropic turbulence is forced throughout the simulations and the temperature and salinity are initialized with homogeneous values similar to observations. The initial temperature and the strength of forced turbulence are varied as controlling parameters within an oceanographically relevant parameter space. Two contrasting regimes are identified. In one regime double-diffusive convection dominates, and in the other convection is inhibited by the forced turbulence. The convective regime occurs for high temperatures and low turbulence levels, where it is long lived and affects the flow, melt rate, and melt pattern. A criterion for identifying convection in terms of the temperature and salinity profiles, and the turbulent dissipation rate, is proposed. This criterion may be applied to observations and theoretical models to quantify the effect of double-diffusive convection on ice shelf melt rates.

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Clément Vic, Bruno Ferron, Virginie Thierry, Herlé Mercier, and Pascale Lherminier

Abstract

Internal waves in the semidiurnal and near-inertial bands are investigated using an array of seven moorings located over the Reykjanes Ridge in a cross-ridge direction (57.6°–59.1°N, 28.5°–33.3°W). Continuous measurements of horizontal velocity and temperature for more than 2 years allow us to estimate the kinetic energy density and the energy fluxes of the waves. We found that there is a remarkable phase locking and linear relationship between the semidiurnal energy density and the tidal energy conversion at the spring–neap cycle. The energy-to-conversion ratio gives replenishment time scales of 4–5 days on the ridge top versus 7–9 days on the flanks. Altogether, these results demonstrate that the bulk of the tidal energy on the ridge comes from near-local sources, with a redistribution of energy from the top to the flanks, which is endorsed by the energy fluxes oriented in the cross-ridge direction. Implications for tidally driven energy dissipation are discussed. The time-averaged near-inertial kinetic energy is smaller than the semidiurnal kinetic energy by a factor of 2–3 but is much more variable in time. It features a strong seasonal cycle with a winter intensification and subseasonal peaks associated with local wind bursts. The ratio of energy to wind work gives replenishment time scales of 13–15 days, which is consistent with the short time scales of observed variability of near-inertial energy. In the upper ocean (1 km), the highest levels of near-inertial energy are preferentially found in anticyclonic structures, with a twofold increase relative to cyclonic structures, illustrating the funneling effect of anticyclones.

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Xiaolong Yu, Alberto C. Naveira Garabato, Adrian P. Martin, and David P. Marshall

Abstract

The evolution of upper-ocean potential vorticity (PV) over a full year in a typical midocean area of the northeast Atlantic is examined using submesoscale- and mesoscale-resolving hydrographic and velocity measurements from a mooring array. A PV budget framework is applied to quantitatively document the competing physical processes responsible for deepening and shoaling the mixed layer. The observations reveal a distinct seasonal cycle in upper-ocean PV, characterized by frequent occurrences of negative PV within deep (up to about 350 m) mixed layers from winter to mid-spring, and positive PV beneath shallow (mostly less than 50 m) mixed layers during the remainder of the year. The cumulative positive and negative subinertial changes in the mixed layer depth, which are largely unaccounted for by advective contributions, exceed the deepest mixed layer by one order of magnitude, suggesting that mixed layer depth is shaped by the competing effects of destratifying and restratifying processes. Deep mixed layers are attributed to persistent atmospheric cooling from winter to mid-spring, which triggers gravitational instability leading to mixed layer deepening. However, on shorter time scales of days, conditions favorable to symmetric instability often occur as winds intermittently align with transient frontal flows. The ensuing submesoscale frontal instabilities are found to fundamentally alter upper-ocean turbulent convection, and limit the deepening of the mixed layer in the winter-to-mid-spring period. These results emphasize the key role of submesoscale frontal instabilities in determining the seasonal evolution of the mixed layer in the open ocean.

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Robin Waldman, Joël Hirschi, Aurore Voldoire, Christophe Cassou, and Rym Msadek

Abstract

This work aims to clarify the relation between the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) and the thermal wind. We derive a new and generic dynamical AMOC decomposition that expresses the thermal wind transport as a simple vertical integral function of eastern minus western boundary densities. This allows us to express density anomalies at any depth as a geostrophic transport in Sverdrups (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) per meter and to predict that density anomalies around the depth of maximum overturning induce most AMOC transport. We then apply this formalism to identify the dynamical drivers of the centennial AMOC variability in the CNRM-CM6 climate model. The dynamical reconstruction and specifically the thermal wind component explain over 80% of the low-frequency AMOC variance at all latitudes, which is therefore almost exclusively driven by density anomalies at both zonal boundaries. This transport variability is dominated by density anomalies between depths of 500 and 1500 m, in agreement with theoretical predictions. At those depths, southward-propagating western boundary temperature anomalies induce the centennial geostrophic AMOC transport variability in the North Atlantic. They are originated along the western boundary of the subpolar gyre through the Labrador Sea deep convection and the Davis Strait overflow.

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Audrey Delpech, Claire Ménesguen, Yves Morel, Leif N. Thomas, Frédéric Marin, Sophie Cravatte, and Sylvie Le Gentil

Abstract

At low latitudes in the ocean, the deep currents are shaped into narrow jets flowing eastward and westward, reversing periodically with latitude between 15°S and 15°N. These jets are present from the thermocline to the bottom. The energy sources and the physical mechanisms responsible for their formation are still debated and poorly understood. This study explores the role of the destabilization of intra-annual equatorial waves in the jets’ formation process, as these waves are known to be an important energy source at low latitudes. The study focuses particularly on the role of barotropic Rossby waves as a first step toward understanding the relevant physical mechanisms. It is shown from a set of idealized numerical simulations and analytical solutions that nonlinear triad interactions (NLTIs) play a crucial role in the transfer of energy toward jet-like structures (long waves with short meridional wavelengths) that induce a zonal residual mean circulation. The sensitivity of the instability emergence and the scale selection of the jet-like secondary wave to the forced primary wave are analyzed. For realistic amplitudes around 5–20 cm s−1, the primary waves that produce the most realistic jet-like structures are zonally propagating intra-annual waves with periods between 60 and 130 days and wavelengths between 200 and 300 km. The NLTI mechanism is a first step toward the generation of a permanent jet-structured circulation and is discussed in the context of turbulent cascade theories.

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James Morison, Ron Kwok, Suzanne Dickinson, Roger Andersen, Cecilia Peralta-Ferriz, David Morison, Ignatius Rigor, Sarah Dewey, and John Guthrie

Abstract

Arctic Ocean surface circulation change should not be viewed as the strength of the anticyclonic Beaufort Gyre. While the Beaufort Gyre is a dominant feature of average Arctic Ocean surface circulation, empirical orthogonal function analysis of dynamic height (1950-1989) and satellite altimetry-derived dynamic ocean topography (2004-2019) show the primary pattern of variability in its cyclonic mode is dominated by a depression of the sea surface and cyclonic surface circulation on the Russian side of the Arctic Ocean. Changes in surface circulation after AO maxima in 1989 and 2007-08 and after an AO minimum in 2010, indicate the cyclonic mode is forced by the Arctic Oscillation (AO) with a lag of about one year. Associated with a one standard deviation increase in the average AO starting in the early 1990s, Arctic Ocean surface circulation underwent a cyclonic shift evidenced by increased spatial-average vorticity. Under increased AO, the cyclonic mode complex also includes increased export of sea ice and near-surface freshwater, a changed path of Eurasian runoff, a freshened Beaufort Sea, and weakened cold halocline layer that insulates sea ice from Atlantic water heat, an impact compounded by increased Atlantic Water inflow and cyclonic circulation at depth. The cyclonic mode’s connection with the AO is important because the AO is a major global scale climate index predicted to increase with global warming. Given the present bias in concentration of in situ measurements in the Beaufort Gyre and Transpolar Drift, a coordinated effort should be made to better observe the cyclonic mode.

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Christian E. Buckingham, Jonathan Gula, and Xavier Carton

Abstract

In this study, we examine the role of curvature in modifying frontal stability. We first evaluate the classical criterion that the Coriolis parameter f multiplied by the Ertel potential vorticity (PV) q is positive for stable flow and that instability is possible when this quantity is negative. The first portion of this statement can be deduced from Ertel’s PV theorem, assuming an initially positive fq. Moreover, the full statement is implicit in the governing equation for the mean geostrophic flow, as the discriminant, fq, changes sign. However, for curved fronts in cyclogeostrophic or gradient wind balance (GWB), an additional term enters the discriminant owing to conservation of absolute angular momentum L. The resulting expression, (1 + Cu)fq < 0 or Lq < 0, where Cu is a nondimensional number quantifying the curvature of the flow, simultaneously generalizes Rayleigh’s criterion by accounting for baroclinicity and Hoskins’s criterion by accounting for centrifugal effects. In particular, changes in the front’s vertical shear and stratification owing to curvature tilt the absolute vorticity vector away from its thermal wind state; in an effort to conserve the product of absolute angular momentum and Ertel PV, this modifies gradient Rossby and Richardson numbers permitted for stable flow. This forms the basis of a nondimensional expression that is valid for inviscid, curved fronts on the f plane, which can be used to classify frontal instabilities. In conclusion, the classical criterion fq < 0 should be replaced by the more general criterion for studies involving gravitational, centrifugal, and symmetric instabilities at curved density fronts. In Part II of the study, we examine interesting outcomes of the criterion applied to low-Richardson-number fronts and vortices in GWB.

Open access
Christian E. Buckingham, Jonathan Gula, and Xavier Carton

Abstract

We continue our study of the role of curvature in modifying frontal stability. In Part I, we obtained an instability criterion valid for curved fronts and vortices in gradient wind balance (GWB): Φ′ = Lq′ < 0, where L′ and q′ are the nondimensional absolute angular momentum and Ertel potential vorticity (PV), respectively. In Part II, we investigate this criterion in a parameter space representative of low-Richardson-number fronts and vortices in GWB. An interesting outcome is that, for Richardson numbers near 1, anticyclonic flows increase in q′, while cyclonic flows decrease in q′, tending to stabilize anticyclonic and destabilize cyclonic flow. Although stability is marginal or weak for anticyclonic flow (owing to multiplication by L′), the destabilization of cyclonic flow is pronounced, and may help to explain an observed asymmetry in the distribution of small-scale, coherent vortices in the ocean interior. We are referring to midlatitude submesoscale and polar mesoscale vortices that are generated by friction and/or buoyancy forcing within boundary layers but that are often documented outside these layers. A comparison is made between several documented vortices and predicted stability maps, providing support for the proposed mechanism. A simple expression, which is a root of the stability discriminant Φ′, explains the observed asymmetry in the distribution of vorticity. In conclusion, the generalized criterion is consistent with theory, observations, and recent modeling studies and demonstrates that curvature in low-stratified environments can destabilize cyclonic and stabilize anticyclonic fronts and vortices to symmetric instability. The results may have implications for Earth system models.

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Aleksi Nummelin, Julius J. M. Busecke, Thomas W. N. Haine, and Ryan P. Abernathey

Abstract

Oceanic tracers are transported by oceanic motions of all scales, but only the large-scale motions are resolved by the present-day Earth system models. In these models, the unresolved lateral sub-gridscale tracer transport is generally parameterized through diffusive closures with a scale-independent diffusion coefficient. However, evidence from observations and theory suggests that diffusivity varies spatially and is length-scale dependent. Here we provide new scale-dependent quantification of the global surface diffusivities. To this end we use a recently developed statistical inversion method, MicroInverse, to diagnose horizontal surface diffusivities from observed sea surface temperature and idealized model simulation. We compare the results to theoretical estimates of mixing by the large-scale shear and by the sub-gridscale velocity fluctuations. The diagnosed diffusivity magnitude peaks in the tropics and western boundary currents with minima in the subtropical gyres (~3000 and ~100 m2 s−1) at ~40-km scale, respectively. Focusing on the 40–200-km length scale range, we find that the diffusivity magnitude scales with the length scale to a power n that is between 1.22 and 1.54 (90% confidence) in the tropics and also peaks at values above 1 in the boundary currents. In the midlatitudes we find that 0.58 < n < 0.87 (90% confidence). Comparison to the theory suggests that in regions with n > 1 the horizontal mixing is dominated by large-scale shear, whereas in regions where n < 1 the horizontal mixing is due to processes that are small compared to the 40–200-km length scale range considered in this study.

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Johannes Gemmrich and Adam Monahan

Abstract

In an idealized two-layer fluid, surface waves can generate waves at the internal interface through class-3 resonant triads in which all waves are propagating in the same direction. The triads are restricted to wavenumbers above a critical value k crit that depends on the density ratio R between the two layers and their depths. We perform numerical simulations to analyze the evolution of a surface wave field, initially specified by a Pierson–Moskowitz-type spectrum, for R = 0.97 (representing a realistic lower a bound for oceanic stratification). At high initial steepness and peak wavenumber k pk crit, the energy increases in the spectral tail; as a parameterization of resulting wave breaking, at each time step individual waves with a steepness greater than the limiting Stokes steepness are removed. The energy change of the surface wave field is a combination of energy transfer to the interfacial waves, spectral downshift, and wave breaking dissipation. At wavenumbers 0.6kp there is a net loss of energy, with the greatest dissipation at ≈1.3k p. The maximum gain occurs at ≈0.5k p. The onset of the spectral change shows a strong threshold behavior with respect to the initial wave steepness. For steep initial waves the integrated energy dissipation can reach >30% of the initial energy, and only ≈1% of the initial surface wave energy is transferred to the interfacial wave field. The spectral change could be expressed as an additional dissipation source term, and coupled ocean–wave models should include additional mixing associated with the interfacial waves and enhanced wave breaking turbulence.

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