The large-scale processes preconditioning the winter deep-water formation in the northwestern Mediterranean Sea are investigated with a primitive equation numerical model where convection is parameterized by a non-penetrative convective adjustment algorithm. The ocean is forced by momentum and buoyancy fluxes that have the gross features of mean winter forcing found in the MEDOC area. The wind-driven barotropic circulation appears to be a major ingredient of the preconditioning phase of deep-water formation. After three months, the ocean response is dominated by a strong barotropic cyclonic vortex located under the forcing area, which fits the Sverdrup balance away from the northern coast. In the vortex center, the whole water column remains trapped under the forcing area all winter. This trapping enables the thermohaline forcing to drive deep-water formation efficiently. Sensitivity studies show that, β effect and bottom topography play a paramount role and confirm that deep convection occurs only in areas that combine a strong surface thermohaline forcing and a weak barotropic advection so that water masses are submitted to the negative buoyancy fluxes for a much longer time. In particular, the impact of the Rhône Deep Sea Fan on the barotropic circulation dominates the β effect: the barotropic flow is constrained to follow the bathymetric contours and the cyclonic vortex is shifted southward so that the fluid above the fan remains quiescent. Hence, buoyancy fluxes trigger deep convection above the fan in agreement with observations. The selection of the area of deep-water formation through the defection of the barotropic circulation by the topography seems a more efficient mechanism than those associated with the wind- driven barotropic vortex. This is due to its permanency, while the latter may be too sensitive to time and space variations of the forcing.

This content is only available as a PDF.