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Andrew P. Ingersoll

Abstract

Expressions are derived for the potential energy of a fluid whose density depends on three variables: temperature, pressure, and salinity. The thermal expansion coefficient is a function of depth, and the application is to thermobaric convection in the oceans. Energy conservation, with conversion between kinetic and potential energies during adiabatic, inviscid motion, exists for the Boussinesq and anelastic approximations but not for all approximate systems of equations. In the Boussinesq/anelastic system, which is a linearization of the thermodynamic variables, the expressions for potential energy involve thermodynamic potentials for salinity and potential temperature. Thermobaric instability can occur with warm salty water either above or below cold freshwater. In both cases the fluid may be unstable to large perturbations even though it is stable to small perturbations. The energy per mass of this finite-amplitude instability varies as the square of the layer thickness. With a 4-K temperature difference and a 0.6-psu salinity difference across a layer that is 4000 m thick, the stored potential energy is ∼0.3 m2 s−2, which is comparable to the kinetic energy of the major ocean currents. This potential could be released as kinetic energy in a single large event. Thermobaric effects cause parcels moving adiabatically to follow different neutral trajectories. A cold fresh parcel that is less dense than a warm salty parcel near the surface may be more dense at depth. Examples are given in which two isopycnal trajectories cross at one place and differ in depth by 1000 m or more at another.

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Zhan Su and Andrew P. Ingersoll

Abstract

Exactly solving the absolute minimum potential energy state (Lorenz reference state) is a difficult problem because of the nonlinear nature of the equation of state of seawater. This problem has been solved recently but the algorithm comes at a high computational cost. As the first part of this study, the authors develop an algorithm that is ~103–105 times faster, making it useful for energy diagnosis in ocean models. The second part of this study shows that the global patterns of Lorenz available potential energy (APE) density are distinct from those of eddy kinetic energy (EKE). This is because the Lorenz APE density is based on the entire domainwide parcel rearrangement, while mesoscale eddies, if related to baroclinic instability, are typically generated through local parcel rearrangement approximately around the eddy size. Inspired by this contrast, this study develops a locally defined APE framework: the eddy size–constrained APE density based on the strong constraint that the parcel rearrangement/displacement to achieve the minimum potential energy state should not exceed the local eddy size horizontally. This concept typically identifies baroclinically unstable regions. It is shown to be helpful to detect individual eddies/vortices and local EKE patterns, for example, around the Southern Ocean fronts and subtropical western boundary currents. This is consistent with the physical picture that mesoscale eddies are associated with a strong signature in both the velocity field (i.e., EKE) and the stratification (i.e., local APE). The new APE concept may be useful in parameterizing mesoscale eddies in ocean models.

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Zhan Su, Andrew P. Ingersoll, Andrew L. Stewart, and Andrew F. Thompson

Abstract

The energetics of thermobaricity- and cabbeling-powered deep convection occurring in oceans with cold freshwater overlying warm salty water are investigated here. These quasi-two-layer profiles are widely observed in wintertime polar oceans. The key diagnostic is the ocean convective available potential energy (OCAPE), a concept introduced in a companion piece to this paper (Part I). For an isolated ocean column, OCAPE arises from thermobaricity and is the maximum potential energy (PE) that can be converted into kinetic energy (KE) under adiabatic vertical parcel rearrangements. This study explores the KE budget of convection using two-dimensional numerical simulations and analytical estimates. The authors find that OCAPE is a principal source for KE. However, the complete conversion of OCAPE to KE is inhibited by diabatic processes. Further, this study finds that diabatic processes produce three other distinct contributions to the KE budget: (i) a sink of KE due to the reduction of stratification by vertical mixing, which raises water column’s center of mass and thus acts to convert KE to PE; (ii) a source of KE due to cabbeling-induced shrinking of the water column’s volume when water masses with different temperatures are mixed, which lowers the water column’s center of mass and thus acts to convert PE into KE; and (iii) a reduced production of KE due to diabatic energy conversion of the KE convertible part of the PE to the KE inconvertible part of the PE. Under some simplifying assumptions, the authors also propose a theory to estimate the maximum depth of convection from an energetic perspective. This study provides a potential basis for improving the convection parameterization in ocean models.

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Zhan Su, Andrew P. Ingersoll, Andrew L. Stewart, and Andrew F. Thompson

Abstract

Thermobaric convection (type II convection) and thermobaric cabbeling (type III convection) might substantially contribute to vertical mixing, vertical heat transport, and deep-water formation in the World Ocean. However, the extent of this contribution remains poorly constrained. The concept of ocean convective available potential energy (OCAPE), the thermobaric energy source for type II and type III convection, is introduced to improve the diagnosis and prediction of these convection events. OCAPE is analogous to atmospheric CAPE, which is a key energy source for atmospheric moist convection and has long been used to forecast moist convection. OCAPE is the potential energy (PE) stored in an ocean column arising from thermobaricity, defined as the difference between the PE of the ocean column and its minimum possible PE under adiabatic vertical parcel rearrangements. An ocean column may be stably stratified and still have nonzero OCAPE. The authors present an efficient strategy for computing OCAPE accurately for any given column of seawater. They further derive analytical expressions for OCAPE for approximately two-layer ocean columns that are widely observed in polar oceans. This elucidates the dependence of OCAPE on key physical parameters. Hydrographic profiles from the winter Weddell Sea are shown to contain OCAPE (0.001–0.01 J kg−1), and scaling analysis suggests that OCAPE may be substantially enhanced by wintertime surface buoyancy loss. The release of this OCAPE may substantially contribute to the kinetic energy of deep convection in polar oceans.

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