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Takaya Uchida
Quentin Jamet
William K. Dewar
Bruno Deremble
Andrew C. Poje
, and
Luolin Sun


We examine the ocean energy cycle where the eddies are defined about the ensemble mean of a partially air–sea coupled, eddy-rich ensemble simulation of the North Atlantic. The decomposition about the ensemble mean leads to a parameter-free definition of eddies, which is interpreted as the expression of oceanic chaos. Using the ensemble framework, we define the reservoirs of mean and eddy kinetic energy (MKE and EKE, respectively) and mean total dynamic enthalpy (MTDE). We opt for the usage of dynamic enthalpy (DE) as a proxy for potential energy due to its dynamically consistent relation to hydrostatic pressure in Boussinesq fluids and nonreliance on any reference stratification. The curious result that emerges is that the potential energy reservoir cannot be decomposed into its mean and eddy components, and the eddy flux of DE can be absorbed into the EKE budget as pressure work. We find from the energy cycle that while baroclinic instability, associated with a positive vertical eddy buoyancy flux, tends to peak around February, EKE takes its maximum around September in the wind-driven gyre. Interestingly, the energy input from MKE to EKE, a process sometimes associated with barotropic processes, becomes larger than the vertical eddy buoyancy flux during the summer and autumn. Our results question the common notion that the inverse energy cascade of wintertime EKE energized by baroclinic instability within the mixed layer is solely responsible for the summer-to-autumn peak in EKE and suggest that both the eddy transport of DE and transfer of energy from MKE to EKE contribute to the seasonal EKE maxima.

Significance Statement

The Earth system, including the ocean, is chaotic. Namely, the state to be realized is highly sensitive to minute perturbations, a phenomenon commonly known as the “butterfly effect.” Here, we run a sweep of ocean simulations that allow us to disentangle the oceanic expression of chaos from the oceanic response to the atmosphere. We investigate the energy pathways between the two in a physically consistent manner in the North Atlantic region. Our approach can be extended to robustly examine the temporal change of oceanic energy and heat distribution under a warming climate.

Open access