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Alison R. Gray and Stephen C. Riser

Abstract

This response addresses the three comments by A. Polonsky on “A Global Analysis of Sverdrup Balance Using Absolute Geostrophic Velocities from Argo.”

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Alison R. Gray and Stephen C. Riser

Abstract

Using observations from the Argo array of profiling floats, the large-scale circulation of the upper 2000 decibars (db) of the global ocean is computed for the period from December 2004 to November 2010. The geostrophic velocity relative to a reference level of 900 db is estimated from temperature and salinity profiles, and the absolute geostrophic velocity at the reference level is estimated from the trajectory data provided by the floats. Combining the two gives the absolute geostrophic velocity on 29 pressure surfaces spanning the upper 2000 db of the global ocean. These velocities, together with satellite observations of wind stress, are then used to evaluate Sverdrup balance, the simple canonical theory relating meridional geostrophic transport to wind forcing. Observed transports agree well with predictions based on the wind field over large areas, primarily in the tropics and subtropics. Elsewhere, especially at higher latitudes and in boundary regions, Sverdrup balance does not accurately describe meridional geostrophic transports, possibly due to the increased importance of the barotropic flow, nonlinear dynamics, and topographic influence. Thus, while it provides an effective framework for understanding the zero-order wind-driven circulation in much of the global ocean, Sverdrup balance should not be regarded as axiomatic.

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Dhruv Balwada, Qiyu Xiao, Shafer Smith, Ryan Abernathey, and Alison R. Gray

Abstract

It has been hypothesized that submesoscale flows play an important role in the vertical transport of climatically important tracers, due to their strong associated vertical velocities. However, the multiscale, nonlinear, and Lagrangian nature of transport makes it challenging to attribute proportions of the tracer fluxes to certain processes, scales, regions, or features. Here we show that criteria based on the surface vorticity and strain joint probability distribution function (JPDF) effectively decompose the surface velocity field into distinguishable flow regions, and different flow features, like fronts or eddies, are contained in different flow regions. The JPDF has a distinct shape and approximately parses the flow into different scales, as stronger velocity gradients are usually associated with smaller scales. Conditioning the vertical tracer transport on the vorticity–strain JPDF can therefore help to attribute the transport to different types of flows and scales. Applied to a set of idealized Antarctic Circumpolar Current simulations that vary only in horizontal resolution, this diagnostic approach demonstrates that small-scale strain-dominated regions that are generally associated with submesoscale fronts, despite their minuscule spatial footprint, play an outsized role in exchanging tracers across the mixed layer base and are an important contributor to the large-scale tracer budgets. Resolving these flows not only adds extra flux at the small scales, but also enhances the flux due to the larger-scale flows.

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