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Armin Köhl

Abstract

In the Nordic seas the Lofoten Basin is a region of high mesoscale activity. The generation mechanism and the conditions for the stability of a quasi-permanent vortex in the center of the Lofoten Basin are studied with a high-resolution ocean circulation model and altimeter data. The vortex and its generation mechanism manifest themselves by a pronounced sea surface height (SSH) signature and variability, which are found to be in agreement with altimeter data. The vortex results primarily from anticyclonic eddies shed from the eastern branch of the Norwegian Atlantic Current, which propagate southwestward. The large-scale bottom depression of the Lofoten Basin plays a crucial role for attracting anticyclones into the trough and for enabling the dynamical stability of the vortex. The water mass characteristics of the anticyclone lead to enhanced atmospheric interaction (heat loss) during wintertime. The cold water trapped in the upper part of the vortex preconditions convection in the following winter. This positive feedback mechanism tends to deepen convection progressively within the upper part of the vortex.

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Armin Köhl

Abstract

Optimal observations are used to investigate the overturning streamfunction in the North Atlantic at 30°N and 900-m depth. Those observations are designed to impact the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) in numerical models maximally when assimilated and therefore establish the most efficient observation network for studying changes in the MOC. They are also ideally suited for studying the related physical mechanisms in a general circulation model. Optimal observations are evaluated here in the framework of a global 1° model over a 10-yr period. Hydrographic observations useful to monitor the MOC are primarily located along the western boundary north of 30°N and along the eastern boundary south of 30°N. Additional locations are in the Labrador, Irminger, and Iberian Seas. On time scales of less than a year, variations in MOC are mainly wind driven and are made up through changes in Ekman transport and coastal up- and downwelling. Only a small fraction is buoyancy driven and constitutes a slow response, acting on time scales of a few years, to primarily wintertime anomalies in the Labrador and Irminger Seas. Those anomalies are communicated southward along the west coast by internal Kelvin waves at the depth level of Labrador Sea Water. They primarily set the conditions at the northern edge of the MOC anomaly. The southern edge is mainly altered through Rossby waves of the advective type, which originate from temperature and salinity anomalies in the Canary Basin. Those anomalies are amplified on their way westward in the baroclinic unstable region of the subtropical gyre. The exact meridional location of the maximum MOC response is therefore set by the ratio of the strength of these two signals.

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Armin Köhl
and
Detlef Stammer

Abstract

The German partner of the consortium for Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (GECCO) provided a dynamically consistent estimate of the time-varying ocean circulation over the 50-yr period 1952–2001. The GECCO synthesis combines most of the data available during the entire estimation period with the ECCO–Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) ocean circulation model using its adjoint. This GECCO estimate is analyzed here for the period 1962–2001 with respect to decadal and longer-term changes of the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) of the North Atlantic. A special focus is on the maximum MOC values at 25°N. Over this period, the dynamically self-consistent synthesis stays within the error bars of H. L. Bryden et al., but reveals a general increase of the MOC strength. The variability on decadal and longer time scales is decomposed into contributions from different processes. Changes in the model’s MOC strength are strongly influenced by the southward communication of density anomalies along the western boundary originating from the subpolar North Atlantic, which are related to changes in the Denmark Strait overflow but are only marginally influenced by water mass formation in the Labrador Sea. The influence of density anomalies propagating along the southern edge of the subtropical gyre associated with baroclinically unstable Rossby waves is found to be equally important. Wind-driven processes such as local Ekman transport explain a smaller fraction of the variability on those long time scales.

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Armin Köhl
and
Detlef Stammer

Abstract

An important part of ocean state estimation is the design of an observing system that allows for the efficient study of climate related questions in the ocean. A solution to the design problem is presented here in terms of optimal observations that emerge as singular vectors of the modified data resolution matrix. The actual computation is feasible only for scalar quantities and in the limit of large observational errors. Identical twin experiments performed in the framework of a 1° North Atlantic primitive equation model demonstrate that such optimal observations, when applied to determining the heat transport across the Greenland–Scotland ridge, perform significantly better than traditional section data. On seasonal to interannual time scales, optimal observations are located primarily along the continental shelf and information about heat transport, wind stress, and stratification is being communicated through boundary waves and advective processes. On time scales of about 1 month, sea surface height observations appear to be more efficient in reconstructing the cross-ridge heat transport than hydrographic observations. Optimal observations also provide a tool for understanding changes of ocean state associated with anomalies of integral quantities such as meridional heat transport.

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Chuanyu Liu
,
Armin Köhl
, and
Detlef Stammer

Abstract

Using the German Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (GECCO) synthesis framework, four separate eddy tracer mixing coefficients are adjusted jointly with external forcing fields, such as to reduce a global misfit between the model simulations and ocean observations over a single 10-yr period and weighted by uncertainties. The suite of the adjusted eddy tracer mixing coefficients includes the vertical diffusivity kz , the along-isopycnal surface diffusivity k redi, the isopycnal layer thickness diffusivity k gm, and the along-iso-thickness advection coefficient k gmskew. Large and geographically varying adjustments are found in all four parameters, which all together lead to an additional 10% reduction of the total cost function, as compared to using only surface flux parameters. However, their relative contribution to the cost reduction varies from 1% to 50% among the four coefficients, with the adjusted k gm contributing most. Regionally, the estimated k gm ranges from less than −800 to about 2500 m2 s−1. Largest adjustments in k gm reside in the vicinity of large isopycnal slopes and support a mixing length hypothesis; they also likewise support the hypothesis of a critical layer enhancement and high potential density gradient suppression. In a few occasions, resulting negative net k gm values can be found in the core of main currents, suggesting the potential for an inverse energy cascade transfer there. Large adjustments of k redi and k gmskew are found in the vicinity of isopycnal slopes. The adjustments of kz in the tropical thermoclines suggest deficiencies of the mixed layer parameterization.

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Benjamin Rabe
,
Friedrich A. Schott
, and
Armin Köhl

Abstract

The shallow subtropical–tropical cells (STC) of the Atlantic Ocean have been studied from the output fields of a 50-yr run of the German partner of the Estimating the Circulation and Climate of the Ocean (GECCO) consortium assimilation model. Comparison of GECCO with time-mean observational estimates of density and meridional currents at 10°S and 10°N, which represent the boundaries between the tropics and subtropics in GECCO, shows good agreement in transports of major currents. The variability of the GECCO wind stress in the interior at 10°S and 10°N remains consistent with the NCEP forcing, although temporary changes can be large. On pentadal and longer time scales, an STC loop response is found between the poleward Ekman divergence and STC-layer convergence at 10°S and 10°N via the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) at 23°W, where the divergence leads the EUC and the convergence, suggesting a “pulling” mechanism via equatorial upwelling. The divergence is also associated with changes in the eastern equatorial upper-ocean heat content. Within the STC layer, partial compensation of the western boundary current (WBC) and the interior occurs at 10°S and 10°N. For the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) at 10°S it is found that more than one-half of the variability in the upper limb can be explained by the WBC. The explained MOC variance can be increased to 85% by including the geostrophic (Sverdrup) part of the wind-driven transports.

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Armin Köhl
,
Rolf H. Käse
,
Detlef Stammer
, and
Nuno Serra

Abstract

The warming Nordic seas potentially tend to decrease the overflow across the Greenland–Iceland–Scotland Ridge (GISR) system. Recent observations by Macrander et al. document a significant drop in the intensity of outflowing Denmark Strait Overflow Water of more than 20% over 3 yr and a simultaneous increase in the temperature of the bottom layers of more than 0.4°C. A simulation of the exchange across the GISR with a regional ocean circulation model is used here to identify possible mechanisms that control changes in the Denmark Strait overflow and its relations to changed forcing condition. On seasonal and longer time scales, the authors establish links of the overflow anomalies to a decreasing capacity of the dense water reservoir caused by a change of circulation pattern north of the sill. On annual and shorter time scales, the wind stress curl around Iceland determines the barotropic circulation around the island and thus the barotropic flow through Denmark Strait. For the overlapping time scales, the barotropic and overflow component interactively determine transport variations. Last, a relation between sea surface height and reservoir height changes upstream of the sill is used to predict the overflow variability from altimeter data. Estimated changes are in agreement with other recent transport estimates based on current-meter arrays.

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Chuanyu Liu
,
Xiaowei Wang
,
Zhiyu Liu
,
Armin Köhl
,
William D. Smyth
, and
Fan Wang

Abstract

The origins of an observed weakly sheared nonturbulent (laminar) layer (WSL), and a strongly sheared turbulent layer above the Equatorial Undercurrent core (UCL) in the eastern equatorial Pacific are studied, based mainly on the data from the Tropical Atmosphere and Ocean mooring array. Multiple-time-scale (from 3 to 25 days) equatorial waves were manifested primarily as zonal velocity oscillations with the maximum amplitudes (from 10 to 30 cm s−1) occurring at different depths (from the surface to 85-m depths) above the seasonal thermocline. The subsurface-intensified waves led to vertically out-of-phase shear variations in the upper thermocline via destructive interference with the seasonal zonal flow, opposing the tendency for shear instability. These waves were also associated with depth-dependent, multiple-vertical-scale stratification variations, with phase lags of π/2 or π, further altering stability of the zonal current system to vertical shear. The WSL and UCL were consequently formed by coupling of multiple equatorial waves with differing phases, particularly of the previously identified equatorial mode and subsurface mode tropical instability waves (with central period of 17 and 20 days, respectively, in this study), and subsurface-intensified waves with central periods of 6, 5, and 12 days and velocity maxima at 45-, 87-, and 40-m depths, respectively. In addition, a wave-like feature with periods of 50–90 days enhanced the shear throughout the entire UCL. WSLs and UCLs seem to emerge without a preference for particular tropical instability wave phases. The generation mechanisms of the equatorial waves and their joint impacts on thermocline mixing remain to be elucidated.

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