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W. K. Dewar, J. C. McWilliams, and M. J. Molemaker


A regional numerical study of the California Current System near Monterey Bay, California, is conducted using both hydrostatic and nonhydrostatic models. Frequent sighting of strong anticyclones (Cuddies) have occurred in the area, and previous studies have identified Monterey Bay as an apparent region of strong unbalanced flow generation. Here, by means of a downscaling exercise, a domain just downstream of Point Sur is analyzed and argued to be a preferred site of diapycnal mixing. The scenario suggested by the simulations involves the generation of negative relative vorticity in a bottom boundary layer of the California Undercurrent on the continental shelf break. At Point Sur, the current separates from the coast and moves into deep waters where it rapidly develops finite-amplitude instabilities. These manifest as isopycnal overturnings, but in contrast to the normal Kelvin–Helmholtz paradigm for mixing, this study argues that the instability is primarily centrifugal. The evidence for this comes from comparisons of the model with linear results for ageostrophic instabilities. Mixing increases background potential energy. The authors argue the regional potential energy generation near Point Sur in the upper few hundred meters is comparable to that found in open-ocean regions of strong diapycnal mixing, either by abyssal tides and lee waves near topography. This study computes diapycnal fluxes and estimates turbulent diffusivities to argue mixing by centrifugal instability is characterized by diffusivities O(10−4) m2 s−1, although the potential for contamination by explicit diffusivities exists.

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