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  • Author or Editor: Graham O. Hughes x
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Catherine A. Vreugdenhil
,
Andrew McC. Hogg
,
Ross W. Griffiths
, and
Graham O. Hughes

Abstract

The relative roles of advective processes and mixing on the temporal adjustment of the meridional overturning circulation are examined, in particular the effects of mixing in either the abyssal or upper ocean. Laboratory experiments with convectively driven overturning and imposed stirring rates show that the circulation adjusts toward an equilibrium state on time scales governed by mixing in the upper boundary layer region but independent of the mixing rate in the bulk of the interior. The equilibrium state of the stratification is dependent only on the rate of mixing in the boundary layer. An idealized high-resolution ocean model shows adjustment (of a two-cell circulation) dominated primarily by the advective ventilation time scale, consistent with a view of the circulation determined by water mass transformation occurring primarily near the surface. Both the experiments and the model results indicate that adjustments of the circulation are controlled by surface buoyancy uptake (or rejection) and that the nonequilibrium circulation is dominated by advective processes, especially if the average abyssal ocean diffusivity is less than 3 × 10−5 m2 s−1.

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Juan A. Saenz
,
Rémi Tailleux
,
Edward D. Butler
,
Graham O. Hughes
, and
Kevin I. C. Oliver

Abstract

The study of the mechanical energy budget of the oceans using the Lorenz available potential energy (APE) theory is based on knowledge of the adiabatically rearranged Lorenz reference state of minimum potential energy. The compressible and nonlinear character of the equation of state for seawater has been thought to cause the reference state to be ill defined, casting doubt on the usefulness of APE theory for investigating ocean energetics under realistic conditions. Using a method based on the volume frequency distribution of parcels as a function of temperature and salinity in the context of the seawater Boussinesq approximation, which is illustrated using climatological data, the authors show that compressibility effects are in fact minor. The reference state can be regarded as a well-defined one-dimensional function of depth, which forms a surface in temperature, salinity, and density space between the surface and the bottom of the ocean. For a very small proportion of water masses, this surface can be multivalued and water parcels can have up to two statically stable levels in the reference density profile, of which the shallowest is energetically more accessible. Classifying parcels from the surface to the bottom gives a different reference density profile than classifying in the opposite direction. However, this difference is negligible. This study shows that the reference state obtained by standard sorting methods is equivalent to, though computationally more expensive than, the volume frequency distribution approach. The approach that is presented can be applied systematically and in a computationally efficient manner to investigate the APE budget of the ocean circulation using models or climatological data.

Open access