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Daniel B. Whitt
and
Leif N. Thomas

Abstract

A slab mixed layer model and two-dimensional numerical simulations are used to study the generation and energetics of near-inertial oscillations in a unidirectional, laterally sheared geostrophic current forced by oscillatory winds. The vertical vorticity of the current ζ g modifies the effective Coriolis frequency , which is equivalent to the local resonant forcing frequency. In addition, the resonant oscillatory velocity response is elliptical, not circular, because the oscillation periodically exchanges energy with the geostrophic flow via shear production. With damping, this energy exchange becomes permanent, but its magnitude and sign depend strongly on the angle of the oscillatory wind vector relative to the geostrophic flow. However, for a current forced by an isotropic distribution of wind directions, the response averaged over all wind angles results in a net extraction of energy from the geostrophic flow that scales as the wind work on the inertial motions times (ζ g /f)2 for ζ g f. For ζ g ~ f, this sink of geostrophic kinetic energy preferentially damps flows with anticyclonic vorticity and thus could contribute toward shaping the positively skewed vorticity distribution observed in the upper ocean.

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Daniel B. Whitt
,
Leif N. Thomas
,
Jody M. Klymak
,
Craig M. Lee
, and
Eric A. D’Asaro

Abstract

High-resolution, nearly Lagrangian observations of velocity and density made in the North Wall of the Gulf Stream reveal banded shear structures characteristic of near-inertial waves (NIWs). Here, the current follows submesoscale dynamics, with Rossby and Richardson numbers near one, and the vertical vorticity is positive. This allows for a unique analysis of the interaction of NIWs with a submesoscale current dominated by cyclonic as opposed to anticyclonic vorticity. Rotary spectra reveal that the vertical shear vector rotates primarily clockwise with depth and with time at frequencies near and above the local Coriolis frequency f. At some depths, more than half of the measured shear variance is explained by clockwise rotary motions with frequencies between f and 1.7f. The dominant superinertial frequencies are consistent with those inferred from a dispersion relation for NIWs in submesoscale currents that depends on the observed aspect ratio of the wave shear as well as the vertical vorticity, baroclinicity, and stratification of the balanced flow. These observations motivate a ray tracing calculation of superinertial wave propagation in the North Wall, where multiple filaments of strong cyclonic vorticity strongly modify wave propagation. The calculation shows that the minimum permissible frequency for inertia–gravity waves is mostly greater than the Coriolis frequency, and superinertial waves can be trapped and amplified at slantwise critical layers between cyclonic vortex filaments, providing a new plausible explanation for why the observed shear variance is dominated by superinertial waves.

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