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Marcela Contreras
,
Lionel Renault
, and
Patrick Marchesiello

Abstract

The Gulf Stream (GS) is one of the strongest ocean currents on the planet. Eddy-rich resolution models are needed to properly represent the dynamics of the GS; however, kinetic energy (KE) can be in excess in these models if not dissipated efficiently. The question of how and how much energy is dissipated and in particular how it flows through ocean scales thus remains an important and largely unanswered question. Using a high-resolution (∼2 km) ocean model [Coastal and Regional Ocean Community (CROCO)], we characterize the spatial and temporal distribution of turbulent cascades in the GS based on a coarse-grained method. We show that the balanced flow is associated with an inverse cascade while the forward cascade is explained by ageostrophic advection associated with frontogenesis. Downscale fluxes are dominant at scales smaller than about 20 km near the surface and most intense at the GS North Wall. There is also strong seasonal variability in KE flux, with the forward cascade intensifying in winter and the inverse cascade later in spring. The forward cascade, which represents an interior route to dissipation, is compared with both numerical and boundary dissipation processes. The contribution of interior dissipation is an order of magnitude smaller than that of the other energy sinks. We thus evaluate the sensitivity of horizontal momentum advection schemes on energy dissipation and show that the decrease in numerical dissipation in a high-order scheme leads to an increase in dissipation at the boundaries, not in the downscale flux.

Free access
Marco Larrañaga
,
Lionel Renault
, and
Julien Jouanno

Abstract

The surface oceanic current feedback (CFB) to the atmosphere 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 three 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 it should be taken into account in ocean models.

Free access
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
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.

Full access
Lionel Renault
,
James C. McWilliams
, and
Pierrick Penven
Open access
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.

Full access
Fabien Desbiolles
,
Agostino N. Meroni
,
Lionel Renault
, and
Claudia Pasquero

Abstract

Sea surface temperature (SST) is characterized by abundant warm and cold structures that influence the overlying atmospheric boundary layer dynamics through two different mechanisms. First, turbulence and large eddies in the lower troposphere are affected by atmospheric stability, which can be modified by local SST, resulting in enhanced vertical mixing and larger surface winds over warmer waters. Second, the thermodynamic adjustment of air density to the underlying SST structures and the subsequent changes in atmospheric pressure drive secondary circulations. This paper aims to disentangle the effects of these processes and explore the environmental conditions that favor them. Two main environmental variables are considered: the large-scale air–sea temperature difference (proxy for stability) and wind speed. Using 5 years of daily reanalyses data, we investigate the 10-m wind response to SST structures. Based on linear regression between wind divergence and SST derivatives, we show that both mechanisms operate over a large spectrum of conditions. Ten-meter wind divergence is strongly impacted by the local SST via its effect on vertical mixing for midwind regimes in slightly unstable to near-neutral conditions, whereas the secondary circulation is important in two distinct regimes: low wind speed with a slightly unstable air column and high background wind speed with a very unstable air column. The first regime is explained by the prolonged Lagrangian time that the air parcel stays over an SST structure while the second one is related to strong heat fluxes at the air–sea interface, which greatly modify the marine atmospheric boundary layer properties. Location and frequency of the environmentally favorable conditions are discussed, as well as the response in low-cloud cover and rainfall.

Significance Statement

The main objective of this study is to explore the wind response to thermal structures at the sea surface under different environmental conditions using the latest atmospheric reanalysis. Recent literature suggests that fine-scale air–sea interactions affect a large spectrum of atmospheric dynamics, from seasonal to weather-type regimes. It is thus important to characterize the atmospheric response to ocean surface variability. Our findings describe the environmental conditions for which the two main physical processes through which the atmosphere responds to sea surface temperature structures are active the most and can guide the development of high-resolution observing missions and campaigns in specific geographical locations and seasons to retrieve data that can be used to improve parameterization in models.

Open access
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.

Full access
Carlos Conejero
,
Lionel Renault
,
Fabien Desbiolles
,
J. C. McWilliams
, and
Hervé Giordani

Abstract

Current feedback (CFB) and thermal feedback (TFB) have been shown to strongly influence both atmospheric and oceanic dynamics at the oceanic mesoscale (10–250 km). At smaller scales, oceanic submesoscale currents (SMCs; 0.1–10 km) have a major influence on the ocean’s energy budget, variability, and ecosystems. However, submesoscale air–sea interactions are not well understood because of observational and modeling limitations related to their scales. Here, we use a realistic submesoscale-permitting coupled oceanic and atmospheric model to quantify the spatiotemporal variability of TFB and CFB coupling in the northwest tropical Atlantic Ocean. While CFB still acts as a submesoscale eddy killer by inducing an energy sink from the SMCs to the atmosphere, it appears to be more efficient at the submesoscale by approximately 30% than at the mesoscale. Submesoscale CFB affects the surface stress, however, the finite time scale of SMCs for adjusting the atmospheric boundary layer results in a diminished low-level wind response, weakening partial ocean reenergization by about 70%. Unlike at the mesoscale, submesoscale CFB induces stress/wind convergence/divergence, influencing the atmospheric boundary layer through vertical motions. The linear relationship between the surface stress derivative or wind derivative fields and sea surface temperature gradients, widespread at the mesoscale, decreases by approximately 35% ± 7% or 77% ± 10%, respectively, at the submesoscale. In addition, submesoscale TFB induces turbulent heat fluxes comparable to those at the mesoscale. Seasonal variability in meso- and submesoscale CFB and TFB coupling is mostly related to background wind speed. Also, disentangling submesoscale CFB and TFB is challenging because they can reinforce or counteract each other.

Restricted access
Lionel Renault
,
S. Masson
,
V. Oerder
,
F. Colas
, and
J. C. McWilliams

Abstract

Ocean mesoscale thermal feedback (TFB) is the influence of mesoscale sea surface temperature (SST) anomalies on the overlying atmosphere and its feedback to the ocean. Over the past few decades, TFB has been shown to affect the atmosphere by inducing low-level wind and surface stress anomalies and modulating ocean–atmosphere heat fluxes ubiquitously over the global oceans. These anomalies can alter the climate variability. However, it is not clear yet to what extent heat and momentum flux anomalies modulate the mesoscale ocean activity. Here, using coupled ocean–atmosphere mesoscale simulations over a realistic subtropical channel centered on the equator in which the TFB can be turned off by spatially smoothing the SST as seen by the atmosphere, we show that TFB can damp the mesoscale activity, with a more pronounced effect near the surface. This damping appears to be sensitive to the cutoff filter used: on average, the surface mesoscale activity is attenuated by 9% when smoothing the SST using an ∼1000-km cutoff but by only 2% when using an ∼350-km cutoff. We demonstrate that the mesoscale activity damping is primarily caused by a sink of available eddy potential energy that is controlled by the induced-anomalous heat fluxes, the surface stress anomalies having a negligible role. When TFB is neglected, the absence of sink of potential energy is partly compensated by a more negative eddy wind work. We illustrate that TFB filtering in a coupled model must be done carefully because it can also impact the large-scale meridional SST gradients and subsequently the mean large-scale wind stress curl and ocean dynamics.

Open access