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Takeyoshi Nagai
Amit Tandon
Eric Kunze
, and
Amala Mahadevan


While near-inertial waves are known to be generated by atmospheric storms, recent observations in the Kuroshio Front find intense near-inertial internal-wave shear along sloping isopycnals, even during calm weather. Recent literature suggests that spontaneous generation of near-inertial waves by frontal instabilities could represent a major sink for the subinertial quasigeostrophic circulation. An unforced three-dimensional 1-km-resolution model, initialized with the observed cross-Kuroshio structure, is used to explore this mechanism. After several weeks, the model exhibits growth of 10–100-km-scale frontal meanders, accompanied by O(10) mW m−2 spontaneous generation of near-inertial waves associated with readjustment of submesoscale fronts forced out of balance by mesoscale confluent flows. These waves have properties resembling those in the observations. However, they are reabsorbed into the model Kuroshio Front with no more than 15% dissipating or radiating away. Thus, spontaneous generation of near-inertial waves represents a redistribution of quasigeostrophic energy rather than a significant sink.

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