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Ryan Abernathey
Paola Cessi


The processes that determine the depth of the Southern Ocean thermocline are considered. In existing conceptual frameworks, the thermocline depth is determined by competition between the mean and eddy heat transport, with a contribution from the interaction with the stratification in the enclosed portion of the ocean. Using numerical simulations, this study examines the equilibration of an idealized circumpolar current with and without topography. The authors find that eddies are much more efficient when topography is present, leading to a shallower thermocline than in the flat case. A simple quasigeostrophic analytical model shows that the topographically induced standing wave increases the effective eddy diffusivity by increasing the local buoyancy gradients and lengthening the buoyancy contours across which the eddies transport heat. In addition to this local heat flux intensification, transient eddy heat fluxes are suppressed away from the topography, especially upstream, indicating that localized topography leads to local (absolute) baroclinic instability and its subsequent finite-amplitude equilibration, which extracts available potential energy very efficiently from the time-mean flow.

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