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Y.-L. Chang and L.-Y. Oey
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Y.-L. Chang and L.-Y. Oey

Abstract

The North Pacific Subtropical Countercurrent (STCC) has a weak eastward velocity near the surface, but the region is populated with eddies. Studies have shown that the STCC is baroclinically unstable with a peak growth rate of 0.015 day−1 in March, and the ~60-day growth time has been used to explain the peak eddy kinetic energy (EKE) in May observed from satellites. It is argued here that this growth time from previously published normal-mode instability analyses is too slow. Growth rates calculated from an initial-value problem without the normal-mode assumption are found to be 1.5 to 2 times faster and at shorter wavelengths, due to the existence of (i) nonmodal solutions and (ii) sea surface temperature front in the mixed layer in winter. At interannual time scales it is shown that because of rapid surface adjustments, the STCC geostrophic shear, hence also the instability growth, is approximately in phase with surface forcing, leading to EKE modulation that peaks approximately 10 months later. However, the EKE can only be partially explained by this mechanism of modulation by baroclinic instability. It is suggested that the unexplained variance may be caused additionally by modulation of the EKE by dissipation.

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Y.-L. Chang and L.-Y. Oey

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It is first shown that wind in the Gulf of Mexico can delay the shedding of Loop Current eddies. A time-dependent, three-dimensional numerical experiment forced by a spatially and temporally constant westward wind stress within the Gulf is analyzed and then is compared with an otherwise identical no-wind run, and the result is confirmed with reduced-gravity experiments. It is shown that the wind produces westward transports over the northern and southern shelves of the Gulf, convergence in the west, and a returned (i.e., eastward) upper-layer flow over the deep central basin toward the Loop Current. The theory from T. Pichevin and D. Nof is then used to explain that the returned flow constitutes a zonal momentum flux that delays eddy shedding. Mass-balance analysis shows that wind also forces larger Loop Current and rings (because the delayed shedding allows more mass to be accumulated in them) and produces more efficient mass exchange between the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea. It is shown that eddies alone (without wind stress curl) can force a boundary current and downward flow in the western Gulf and a corresponding deep flow from the western Gulf to the eastern Gulf.

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Y-L. Chang and L-Y. Oey

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The Gulf of Mexico (GOM) receives heat from the Caribbean Sea via the Yucatan–Loop Current (LC) system, and the corresponding ocean heat content (OHC) is important to weather and climate of the continental United States. However, the mechanisms that affect this heat influx and how it is distributed in the Gulf have not been studied. Using the Princeton Ocean Model, the authors show that a steady, uniform westward wind in the Gulf increases (∼100 KJ cm−2) the upper OHC (temperature T > 18°C) of the Gulf. This is because wind increases the water exchange between the Gulf and the Caribbean Sea, and the heat input into the Gulf is also increased, by about 50 TW. The westward heat transport to the western Gulf is ∼30 TW, and a substantial portion of this is due to wind-induced shelf currents, which converge to produce downwelling near the western coast. Finally, eddies are effective transporters of heat across the central Gulf. Wind forces larger LC and rings with deeper isotherms. This and downfront-wind mixing on the southern side of anticyclonic rings, northward spread of near-zero potential vorticity waters, and downwelling on the northern shelf break result in wide and deep eddies that transport large OHCs across the Gulf.

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Y.-L. Chang and L.-Y. Oey

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Air–sea coupling in the IntraAmerican seas (IAS; Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico) is studied through analyses of observational data from satellite, reanalysis products, and in situ measurements. A strong coupling is found between the easterly trade wind −U and meridional SST gradient ∂T/∂y across a localized region of the southern-central Caribbean Sea from seasonal and interannual to decadal time scales. The ∂T/∂y anomaly is caused by a variation in the strength of coastal upwelling off the Venezuelan coast by the wind, which in turn strengthens (weakens) for stronger (weaker) ∂T/∂y. Wind speeds and seasonal fluctuations in IAS have increased in the past two decades with a transition near 1994 coinciding approximately with when the Atlantic multidecadal oscillation (AMO) turned from cold to warm phases. In particular, the seasonal swing from summer's strong to fall's weak trade wind has become larger. The ocean's upper-layer depth has also deepened, by as much as 50% on average in the eastern Gulf of Mexico. These conditions favor the shedding of eddies from the Loop Current, making it more likely to shed at a biannual frequency, as has been observed from altimetry data.

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Y.-L. Chang and L.-Y. Oey

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Although the upper-layer dynamics of the Loop Current and eddies in the Gulf of Mexico are well studied, the understanding of how they are coupled to the deep flows is limited. In this work, results from a numerical model are analyzed to classify the expansion, shedding, retraction, and deep-coupling cycle (the Loop Current cycle) according to the vertical mass flux across the base of the Loop. Stage A is the “Loop reforming” period, with downward flux and deep divergence under the Loop Current. Stage B is the “incipient shedding,” with strong upward flux and deep convergence. Stage C is the “eddy migration,” with waning upward flux and deep throughflow from the western Gulf into the Yucatan Channel. Because of the strong deep coupling between the eastern and western Gulf, the Loop’s expansion is poorly correlated with deep flows through the Yucatan Channel. Stage A is longest and the mean vertical flux under the Loop Current is downward. Therefore, because the net circulation around the abyssal basin is zero, the abyssal gyre in the western Gulf is cyclonic. The gyre’s strength is strongest when the Loop Current is reforming and weakest after an eddy is shed. The result suggests that the Loop Current cycle can force a low-frequency [time scales ∼ shedding periods; O(months)] abyssal oscillation in the Gulf of Mexico.

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L.-Y. Oey, Y.-L. Chang, Y.-C. Lin, M.-C. Chang, S. Varlamov, and Y. Miyazawa

Abstract

In winter, a branch of the China Coastal Current can turn in the Taiwan Strait to join the poleward-flowing Taiwan Coastal Current. The associated cross-strait flows have been inferred from hydrographic and satellite data, from observed abundances off northwestern Taiwan of cold-water copepod species Calanus sinicus and, in late March of 2012, also from debris found along the northwestern shore of Taiwan of a ship that broke two weeks earlier off the coast of China. The dynamics related to such cross flows have not been previously explained and are the focus of this study using analytical and numerical models. It is shown that the strait’s currents can be classified into three regimes depending on the strength of the winter monsoon: equatorward (poleward) for northeasterly winds stronger (weaker) than an upper (lower) bound and cross-strait flows for relaxing northeasterly winds between the two bounds. These regimes are related to the formation of the stationary Rossby wave over the Changyun Ridge off midwestern Taiwan. In the weak (strong) northeasterly wind regime, a weak (no) wave is produced. In the relaxing wind regime, cross-strait currents are triggered by an imbalance between the pressure gradient and wind and are amplified by the finite-amplitude meander downstream of the ridge where a strong cyclone develops.

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Yu-Lin Chang and L.-Y. Oey

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Recent studies on Loop Current’s variability in the Gulf of Mexico suggest that the system may behave with some regularity forced by the biannually varying trade winds. The process is analyzed here using a reduced-gravity model and satellite data. The model shows that a biannual signal is produced by vorticity and transport fluctuations in the Yucatan Channel because of the piling up and retreat of warm water in the northwestern Caribbean Sea forced by the biannually varying trade wind. The Loop grows and expands with increased northward velocity and cyclonic vorticity of the Yucatan Current, and eddies are shed when these are near minima. Satellite sea surface height (SSH) data from 1993 to 2010 are analyzed. These show, consistent with the reduced-gravity experiments and previous studies, a (statistically) significant asymmetric biannual variation of the growth and wane of Loop Current: strong from summer to fall and weaker from winter to spring; the asymmetry being due to the asymmetry that also exists in the long-term observed wind. The biannual signal is contained in the two leading EOF modes, which together explain 47% of the total variance, and which additionally describe the eddy shedding and westward propagation from summer to fall. The EOFs also show connectivity between Loop Current and Caribbean Sea’s variability by mass and vorticity fluxes through the Yucatan Channel.

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F.-H. Xu, Y.-L. Chang, L.-Y. Oey, and P. Hamilton

Abstract

Recent studies suggest that as the trade wind in the Caribbean Sea weakens from summer to fall, conditions become more favorable for the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico to shed an anticyclonic ring. This idea originated with observations showing a preference for more eddies from summer through fall, and it was confirmed using multidecadal model experiments. Here, the hypothesis is further tested by studying the dynamics of a specific eddy-shedding event in summer 2011 using a model experiment initialized with observation-assimilated reanalysis and forced by reanalysis wind from NCEP. Eddy shedding in July 2011 is shown to follow the weakening of the trade wind and Yucatan transport in late June. The shedding time is significantly earlier than can be explained based on reduced-gravity Rossby wave dynamics. Altimetry and model data are analyzed to show that empirical orthogonal function modes 1 + 2 dominate the reduced-gravity process, while higher modes contain the coupling of the Loop Current with deep layer underneath. The Loop’s westward expansion at incipient shedding induces a deep cyclonic gyre in the eastern Gulf, embedded within which are small cyclones caused by the baroclinic instability of the strongly sheared current north of the Campeche Bank. The associated deep upwelling and upper-layer divergence from these cyclonic circulations accelerate eddy shedding.

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