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Lionel Renault, James C. McWilliams, and Pierrick Penven

Abstract

Coupled ocean–atmosphere simulations are carried out for the Mozambique Channel, the Agulhas Current system, and the Benguela upwelling system to assess the ocean surface current feedback to the atmosphere and its impact on the Agulhas Current (AC) retroflection and leakage. Consistent with previous studies, the authors show that the current feedback slows down the oceanic mean circulation and acts as an oceanic eddy killer by modulating the energy transfer between the atmosphere and the ocean, reducing by 25% the mesoscale energy and inducing a pathway of energy transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere. The current feedback, by dampening the eddy kinetic energy (EKE), shifts westward the distribution of the AC retroflection location, reducing the presence of eastern retroflections in the simulations and improving the realism of the AC simulation. By modulating the EKE, the AC retroflection and the Good Hope jet intensity, the current feedback allows a larger AC leakage (by 21%), altering the water masses of the Benguela system. Additionally, the eddy shedding is shifted northward and the Agulhas rings propagate less far north in the Atlantic. The current–wind coupling coefficient s w is not spatially constant: a deeper marine boundary layer induces a weaker s w. Finally the results indicate that the submesoscale currents may also be weakened by the current feedback.

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Lionel Renault, James C. McWilliams, and Pierrick Penven
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Marco Larrañaga, Lionel Renault, and Julien Jouanno

Abstract

The surface oceanic Currents FeedBack to the atmosphere (CFB) has been shown to correct long-lasting biases in the representation of ocean dynamics by providing an unambiguous energy sink mechanism. However its effects on the Gulf of Mexico (GoM) oceanic circulation are not known. Here, twin ocean-atmosphere eddy rich coupled simulations, with and without CFB, are performed for the period 1993-2016 over the GoM to assess to which extent CFB modulates the GoM dynamics. CFB, through the eddy killing mechanism and the associated transfer of momentum from mesoscale currents to the atmosphere, damps the mesoscale activity by roughly 20% and alters eddy statistics. We furthermore show that the Loop Current (LC) extensions can be classified into 3 categories: a retracted LC, a canonical LC, and an elongated LC. CFB, by damping the mesoscale activity, enhance the occurrence of the elongated category (by about 7%). Finally, by increasing the LC extension, CFB plays a key role in determining LC eddy separations and statistics. Taking into account CFB improves the representation of the GoM dynamics and should be taken into account in ocean models.

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Ru Chen, James C. McWilliams, and Lionel Renault

Abstract

The California Undercurrent (CUC) transport, with significant variability ranging from weeks to decades, has consequences for both the climate and biogeochemistry of the California Current system. This study evaluates the governors of the CUC transport and its temporal variability from a momentum perspective, using a mesoscale-resolving regional model. From a 16-yr mean perspective, the along-isobath pressure gradient acts to accelerate the CUC, whereas eddy advection retards it. The topographic form stress, which is part of the volume integrated along-isobath pressure gradient, not only acts in the direction of the time-mean CUC, but also greatly modulates the temporal variability of the CUC transport. This temporal variability is also correlated with the eddy momentum advection. The eddy stress plays a role in transferring both the equatorward wind stress and poleward CUC momentum downward. A theory is formulated to show that, in addition to the conventional vertical redistribution of momentum, the eddy stress can also redistribute momentum horizontally in the area where the correlation between the pressure anomaly and isopycnal fluctuations has large spatial variability.

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Lisa Maillard, Julien Boucharel, and Lionel Renault

Abstract

Tropical instability waves (TIWs) are oceanic features propagating westward along the northern front of the Pacific cold tongue. Observational and modeling studies suggest that TIWs may have a large impact on the eastern tropical Pacific background state from seasonal to interannual time scales through heat advection and mixing. However, observations are coarse or limited to surface data, and modeling studies are often based on the comparison of low- versus high-resolution simulations. In this study, we perform a set of regional high-resolution ocean simulations (CROCO 1/12°) in which we strongly damp (NOTIWs-RUN) or not (TIWs-RUN) TIW propagation, by nudging meridional current velocities in the TIW region toward their monthly climatological values. This approach, while effectively removing TIW mesoscale activity, does not alter the model internal physics in particular related to the equatorial Kelvin wave dynamics. The impact of TIWs on the oceanic mean state is then assessed by comparing the two simulations. While the well-known direct effect of TIW heat advection is to weaken the meridional temperature gradient by warming up the cold tongue (0.34°C month−1), the rectified effect of TIWs onto the mean state attenuates this direct effect by cooling down the cold tongue (−0.10°C month−1). This rectified effect occurs through the TIW-induced deepening and weakening of the Equatorial Undercurrent, which subsequently modulates the mean zonal advection and counterbalances the TIWs’ direct effect. This approach allows quantifying the rectified effect of TIWs without degrading the model horizontal resolution and may lead to a better characterization of the eastern tropical Pacific mean state and to the development of TIW parameterizations in Earth system models.

Significance Statement

Tropical instability waves (TIWs), meandering features at the surface of the equatorial Pacific Ocean, have long been recognized as a key component of the climate system that can even impact marine ecosystems. Yet, they are still hardly simulated in coupled global climate models. Here, we introduce a new framework to isolate and quantify their complex influence on the tropical Pacific background climate. This approach allows revealing a so far overlooked effect of TIWs on the mean circulation and heat transport in this region that should be accounted for in the next generation of global coupled climate models through parameterization or increased resolution.

Open access
Kaushik Srinivasan, James C. McWilliams, Lionel Renault, Hristina G. Hristova, Jeroen Molemaker, and William S. Kessler

Abstract

The distribution and strength of submesoscale (SM) surface layer fronts and filaments generated through mixed layer baroclinic energy conversion and submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs) generated by topographic drag are analyzed in numerical simulations of the near-surface southwestern Pacific, north of 16°S. In the Coral Sea a strong seasonal cycle in the surface heat flux leads to a winter SM “soup” consisting of baroclinic mixed layer eddies (MLEs), fronts, and filaments similar to those seen in other regions farther away from the equator. However, a strong wind stress seasonal cycle, largely in sync with the surface heat flux cycle, is also a source of SM processes. SM restratification fluxes show distinctive signatures corresponding to both surface cooling and wind stress. The winter peak in SM activity in the Coral Sea is not in phase with the summer dominance of the mesoscale eddy kinetic energy in the region, implying that local surface layer forcing effects are more important for SM generation than the nonlocal eddy deformation field. In the topographically complex Solomon and Bismarck Seas, a combination of equatorial proximity and boundary drag generates SCVs with large-vorticity Rossby numbers (Ro ~ 10). River outflows in the Bismarck and Solomon Seas make a contribution to SM generation, although they are considerably weaker than the topographic effects. Mean to eddy kinetic energy conversions implicate barotropic instability in SM topographic wakes, with the strongest values seen north of the Vitiaz Strait along the coast of Papua New Guinea.

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Boris Dewitte, Sara Purca, Serena Illig, Lionel Renault, and Benjamin S. Giese

Abstract

Intraseasonal equatorial Kelvin wave activity (IEKW) at a low frequency in the Pacific is investigated using the Simple Ocean Data Assimilation (SODA) oceanic reanalyses. A vertical and horizontal mode decomposition of SODA variability allows estimation of the Kelvin wave amplitude according to the most energetic baroclinic modes. A wavenumber–frequency analysis is then performed on the time series to derive indices of modulation of the IEKW at various frequency bands. The results indicate that the IEKW activity undergoes a significant modulation that projects onto baroclinic modes and is not related in a straightforward manner to the low-frequency climate variability in the Pacific. Linear model experiments corroborate that part of the modulation of the IEKW is tightly linked to change in oceanic mean state rather than to the low-frequency change of atmospheric equatorial variability.

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Lionel Renault, M. Jeroen Molemaker, Jonathan Gula, Sebastien Masson, and James C. McWilliams

Abstract

The Gulf Stream (GS) is known to have a strong influence on climate, for example, by transporting heat from the tropics to higher latitudes. Although the GS transport intensity presents a clear interannual variability, satellite observations reveal its mean path is stable. Numerical models can simulate some characteristics of the mean GS path, but persistent biases keep the GS separation and postseparation unstable and therefore unrealistic. This study investigates how the integration of ocean surface currents into the ocean–atmosphere coupling interface of numerical models impacts the GS. The authors show for the first time that the current feedback, through its eddy killing effect, stabilizes the GS separation and postseparation, resolving long-lasting biases in modeled GS path, at least for the Regional Oceanic Modeling System (ROMS). This key process should therefore be taken into account in oceanic numerical models. Using a set of oceanic and atmospheric coupled and uncoupled simulations, this study shows that the current feedback, by modulating the energy transfer from the atmosphere to the ocean, has two main effects on the ocean. On one hand, by reducing the mean surface stress and thus weakening the mean geostrophic wind work by 30%, the current feedback slows down the whole North Atlantic oceanic gyre, making the GS narrower and its transport weaker. Yet, on the other hand, the current feedback acts as an oceanic eddy killer, reducing the surface eddy kinetic energy by 27%. By inducing a surface stress curl opposite to the current vorticity, it deflects energy from the geostrophic current into the atmosphere and dampens eddies.

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Swen Jullien, Sébastien Masson, Véra Oerder, Guillaume Samson, François Colas, and Lionel Renault

Abstract

Ocean mesoscale eddies are characterized by rotating-like and meandering currents that imprint the low-level atmosphere. Such a current feedback (CFB) has been shown to induce a sink of energy from the ocean to the atmosphere, and consequently to damp the eddy kinetic energy (EKE), with an apparent regional disparity. In a context of increasing model resolution, the importance of this feedback and its dependence on oceanic and atmospheric model resolution arise. Using a hierarchy of quasi-global coupled models with spatial resolutions varying from 1/4° to 1/12°, the present study shows that the CFB induces a negative wind work at scales ranging from 100 to 1000 km, and a subsequent damping of the mesoscale activity by ~30% on average, independently of the model resolution. Regional variations of this damping range from ~20% in very rich eddying regions to ~40% in poor eddying regions. This regional modulation is associated with a different balance between the sink of energy by eddy wind work and the source of EKE by ocean intrinsic instabilities. The efficiency of the CFB is also shown to be a function of the surface wind magnitude: the larger the wind, the larger the sink of energy. The CFB impact is thus related to both wind and EKE. Its correct representation requires both an ocean model that resolves the mesoscale field adequately and an atmospheric model resolution that matches the ocean effective resolution and allows a realistic representation of wind patterns. These results are crucial for including adequately mesoscale ocean–atmosphere interactions in coupled general circulation models and have strong implications in climate research.

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James C. McWilliams, Jonathan Gula, M. Jeroen Molemaker, Lionel Renault, and Alexander F. Shchepetkin

Abstract

A submesoscale filament of dense water in the oceanic surface layer can undergo frontogenesis with a secondary circulation that has a surface horizontal convergence and downwelling in its center. This occurs either because of the mesoscale straining deformation or because of the surface boundary layer turbulence that causes vertical eddy momentum flux divergence or, more briefly, vertical momentum mixing. In the latter case the circulation approximately has a linear horizontal momentum balance among the baroclinic pressure gradient, Coriolis force, and vertical momentum mixing, that is, a turbulent thermal wind. The frontogenetic evolution induced by the turbulent mixing sharpens the transverse gradient of the longitudinal velocity (i.e., it increases the vertical vorticity) through convergent advection by the secondary circulation. In an approximate model based on the turbulent thermal wind, the central vorticity approaches a finite-time singularity, and in a more general hydrostatic model, the central vorticity and horizontal convergence are amplified by shrinking the transverse scale to near the model’s resolution limit within a short advective period on the order of a day.

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