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Kristin L. Zeiden, Daniel L. Rudnick, and Jennifer A. MacKinnon


In this study, a 2-yr time series of velocity profiles to 1000 m from meridional glider surveys is used to characterize the wake in the lee of a large island in the western tropical North Pacific Ocean, Palau. Surveys were completed along sections to the east and west of the island to capture both upstream and downstream conditions. Objectively mapped in time and space, mean sections of velocity show the incident westward North Equatorial Current accelerating around the island of Palau, increasing from 0.1 to 0.2 m s−1 at the surface. Downstream of the island, elevated velocity variability and return flow in the lee are indicative of boundary layer separation. Isolating for periods of depth-average westward flow reveals a length scale in the wake that reflects local details of the topography. Eastward flow is shown to produce an asymmetric wake. Depth-average velocity time series indicate that energetic events (on time scales from weeks to months) are prevalent. These events are associated with mean vorticity values in the wake up to 0.3f near the surface and with instantaneous values that can exceed f (the local Coriolis frequency) during periods of sustained, anomalously strong westward flow. Thus, ageostrophic effects become important to first order.

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Kristin L. Zeiden, Jennifer A. MacKinnon, Matthew H. Alford, Daniel L. Rudnick, Gunnar Voet, and Hemantha Wijesekera


An array of moorings deployed off the coast of Palau is used to characterize submesoscale vorticity generated by broadband upper-ocean flows around the island. Palau is a steep-sided archipelago lying in the path of strong zonal geostrophic currents, but tides and inertial oscillations are energetic as well. Vorticity is correspondingly broadband, with both mean and variance O(f) in a surface and subsurface layer (where f is the local Coriolis frequency). However, while subinertial vorticity is linearly related to the incident subinertial current, the relationship between superinertial velocity and superinertial vorticity is weak. Instead, there is a strong nonlinear relationship between subinertial velocity and superinertial vorticity. A key observation of this study is that during periods of strong westward flow, vorticity in the tidal bands increases by an order of magnitude. Empirical orthogonal functions (EOFs) of velocity show this nonstationary, superinertial vorticity variance is due to eddy motion at the scale of the array. Comparison of kinetic energy and vorticity time series suggest that lateral shear against the island varies with the subinertial flow, while tidal currents lead to flow reversals inshore of the recirculating wake and possibly eddy shedding. This is a departure from the idealized analog typically drawn on in island wake studies: a cylinder in a steady flow. In that case, eddy formation occurs at a frequency dependent on the scale of the obstacle and strength of the flow alone. The observed tidal formation frequency likely modulates the strength of submesoscale wake eddies and thus their dynamic relationship to the mesoscale wake downstream of Palau.

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Magdalena Andres, Ruth C. Musgrave, Daniel L. Rudnick, Kristin L. Zeiden, Thomas Peacock, and Jae-Hun Park


As part of the Flow Encountering Abrupt Topography (FLEAT) program, an array of pressure-sensor equipped inverted echo sounders (PIESs) was deployed north of Palau where the westward-flowing North Equatorial Current encounters the southern end of the Kyushu–Palau Ridge in the tropical North Pacific. Capitalizing on concurrent observations from satellite altimetry, FLEAT Spray gliders, and shipboard hydrography, the PIESs’ 10-month duration hourly bottom pressure p and round-trip acoustic travel time τ records are used to examine the magnitude and predictability of sea level and pycnocline depth changes and to track signal propagations through the array. Sea level and pycnocline depth are found to vary in response to a range of ocean processes, with their magnitude and predictability strongly process dependent. Signals characterized here comprise the barotropic tides, semidiurnal and diurnal internal tides, southeastward-propagating superinertial waves, westward-propagating mesoscale eddies, and a strong signature of sea level increase and pycnocline deepening associated with the region’s relaxation from El Niño to La Niña conditions. The presence of a broad band of superinertial waves just above the inertial frequency was unexpected and the FLEAT observations and output from a numerical model suggest that these waves detected near Palau are forced by remote winds east of the Philippines. The PIES-based estimates of pycnocline displacement are found to have large uncertainties relative to overall variability in pycnocline depth, as localized deep current variations arising from interactions of the large-scale currents with the abrupt topography around Palau have significant travel time variability.

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