Abstract

This study examines the generation of warm spiral structures (referred to as spiral streamers here) over Gulf Stream warm-core rings. Satellite sea surface temperature imagery shows spiral streamers forming after warmer water from the Gulf Stream or newly-formed warm-core rings impinges onto old warm-core rings and then intrudes into the old rings. Field measurements in April 2018 capture the vertical structure of a warm spiral streamer as a shallow lens of low-density water winding over an old ring. Observations also show subduction on both sides of the spiral streamer, which carries surface waters downward. Idealized numerical model simulations initialized with observed water-mass densities reproduce spiral streamers over warm-core rings and reveal that their formation is a nonlinear submesoscale process forced by mesoscale dynamics. The negative density anomaly of the intruding water causes a density front at the interface between the intruding water and surface ring water, which, through thermal-wind balance, drives a local anticyclonic flow. The pressure gradient and momentum advection of the local interfacial flow push the intruding water toward the ring center. The large-scale anticyclonic flow of the ring and the radial motion of the intruding water together form the spiral streamer. The observed subduction on both sides of the spiral streamer is part of the secondary cross-streamer circulation resulting from frontogenesis on the stretching streamer edges. The surface divergence of the secondary circulation pushes the side edges of the streamer away from each other, widens the warm spiral on the surface, and thus enhances its surface signal.

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