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Xavier J. Capet and Xavier J. Carton

Abstract

A process study is conducted on the evolution of boundary currents in a two-layer quasigeostrophic model on the f plane. These currents are composed of two strips of uniform potential vorticity (PV), one in each layer, and both hugging the coast. Coastal water separation (“detrainment”) through baroclinic instability and topographic perturbation is examined. It is shown that the key characteristics of the flow finite-amplitude destabilization can be explained with the help of a linear quantity—the critical amplitude A c—that refers to the location of the line (often called critical layer) where the phase speed of the growing perturbation is equal to the unperturbed flow velocity. Notably, prediction on PV front breaking location is made possible. Different detrainment regimes (i.e., the way fragments of the boundary current are isolated and detached from the initially rectilinear core—e.g., filament formation, eddy shedding) are also identified, related to various A c value ranges, and compared with observed oceanic events.

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Xavier J. Capet, Laurent Chérubin, and Yves Morel

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This paper examines the stability properties of coastal currents having the same potential vorticity (PV) structure but different transports and widths. The PV structure is chosen so as to verify the Charney–Stern necessary condition for instability: two PV fronts associated with opposite sign gradients exist. The authors find that the characteristics of the eddies formed by the current are sensitive to the transport and current width, and very different vortex sizes can be obtained when varying the latter parameters. The diameter is indeed shown to diminish when increasing the transport or diminishing the current width. Analytical and numerical results also show that there are parameter ranges for which the current is stable, and that the Charney–Stern criterion is indeed not a sufficient condition for instability. Large transports are, however, necessary to stabilize the current. The model is then used to study the dynamics of a current subject to adiabatic changes, and a few scenarios are reviewed. In particular, the authors explain how eddies with different diameters can be generated from the same current.

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François Colas, Xavier Capet, James C. McWilliams, and Zhijin Li

Abstract

A dynamical interpretation is made of the mesoscale eddy buoyancy fluxes in the Eastern Boundary Currents off California and Peru–Chile, based on regional equilibrium simulations. The eddy fluxes are primarily shoreward and upward across a swath several hundred kilometers wide in the upper ocean; as such they serve to balance mean offshore air–sea heating and coastal upwelling. In the stratified interior the eddy fluxes are consistent with the adiabatic hypothesis associated with a mean eddy-induced velocity advecting mean buoyancy and tracers. Furthermore, with a suitable gauge choice, the horizontal fluxes are almost entirely aligned with the mean horizontal buoyancy gradient, consistent with the advective parameterization scheme of Gent and McWilliams. The associated diffusivity κ is surface intensified, matching the vertical stratification profile. The fluxes span the across-shore band of high eddy energy, but their alongshore structure is unresolved because of sampling limitations. In the surface layer the eddy flux is significantly diabatic with a shallow eddy-induced circulation cell and downgradient lateral diapycnal flux. The dominant eddy generation process is baroclinic instability, but there are significant regional differences between the upwelling systems in the flux and κ that are not consistent with simple instability theory.

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Xavier Capet, Guillaume Roullet, Patrice Klein, and Guillaume Maze

Abstract

This study focuses on the description of an oceanic variant of the Charney baroclinic instability, arising from the joint presence of (i) an equatorward buoyancy gradient that extends from the surface into the ocean interior and (ii) reduced subsurface stratification, for example, as produced by wintertime convection or subduction. This study analyzes forced dissipative simulations with and without Charney baroclinic instability (C-BCI). In the former, C-BCI strengthens near-surface frontal activity with important consequences in terms of turbulent statistics: increased variance of vertical vorticity and velocity and increased vertical turbulent fluxes. Energetic consequences are explored. Despite the atypical enhancement of submesoscale activity in the simulation subjected to C-BCI, and contrary to several recent studies, the downscale energy flux at the submesoscale en route to dissipation remains modest in the flow energetic equilibration. In particular, it is modest vis à vis the global energy input to the system, the eddy kinetic energy input through conversion of available potential energy, and the classical inverse cascade of kinetic energy. Linear stability analysis suggests that the southern flank of the Gulf Stream may be conducive to oceanic Charney baroclinic instability in spring, following mode water formation and upper-ocean destratification.

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Patrice Klein, Bach Lien Hua, Guillaume Lapeyre, Xavier Capet, Sylvie Le Gentil, and Hideharu Sasaki

Abstract

The authors examine the turbulent properties of a baroclinically unstable oceanic flow using primitive equation (PE) simulations with high resolution (in both horizontal and vertical directions). Resulting dynamics in the surface layers involve large Rossby numbers and significant vortical asymmetries. Furthermore, the ageostrophic divergent motions associated with small-scale surface frontogenesis are shown to significantly alter the nonlinear transfers of kinetic energy and consequently the time evolution of the surface dynamics. Such impact of the ageostrophic motions explains the emergence of the significant cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry and of a strong restratification in the upper layers, which are not allowed by the quasigeostrophic (QG) or surface quasigeostrophic (SQG) theory. However, despite this strong ageostrophic character, some of the main surface properties are surprisingly still close to the surface quasigeostrophic equilibrium. They include a noticeable shallow (≈k −2) velocity spectrum as well as a conspicuous local spectral relationship between surface kinetic energy, sea surface height, and density variance over a large range of scales (from 400 to 4 km). Furthermore, surface velocities can be remarkably diagnosed from only the surface density using SQG relations. This suggests that the validity of some specific SQG relations extends to dynamical regimes with large Rossby numbers. The interior dynamics, on the other hand, strongly differ from the surface dynamics, involving a small Rossby number, a steep (≈k −4) velocity spectrum, and a somewhat steeper density spectrum. The compensation of the surface restratification by a destratification at depth confirms a connection between the surface and the interior induced by the small-scale divergent motions.

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Aurelien L. Ponte, Patrice Klein, Xavier Capet, Pierre-Yves Le Traon, Bertrand Chapron, and Pascale Lherminier

Abstract

High-resolution numerical experiments of ocean mesoscale eddy turbulence show that the wind-driven mixed layer (ML) dynamics affects mesoscale motions in the surface layers at scales lower than O(60 km). At these scales, surface horizontal currents are still coherent to, but weaker than, those derived from sea surface height using geostrophy. Vertical motions, on the other hand, are stronger than those diagnosed using the adiabatic quasigeotrophic (QG) framework. An analytical model, based on a scaling analysis and on simple dynamical arguments, provides a physical understanding and leads to a parameterization of these features in terms of vertical mixing. These results are valid when the wind-driven velocity scale is much smaller than that associated with eddies and the Ekman number (related to the ratio between the Ekman and ML depth) is not small. This suggests that, in these specific situations, three-dimensional ML motions (including the vertical velocity) can be diagnosed from high-resolution satellite observations combined with a climatological knowledge of ML conditions and interior stratification.

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Xavier Capet, Philippe Estrade, Eric Machu, Siny Ndoye, Jacques Grelet, Alban Lazar, Louis Marié, Denis Dausse, and Patrice Brehmer

Abstract

Upwelling off southern Senegal and Gambia takes place over a wide shelf with a large area where depths are shallower than 20 m. This results in typical upwelling patterns that are distinct (e.g., more persistent in time and aligned alongshore) from those of other better known systems, including Oregon and Peru where inner shelves are comparatively narrow. Synoptic to superinertial variability of this upwelling center is captured through a 4-week intensive field campaign, representing the most comprehensive measurements of this region to date. The influence of mesoscale activity extends across the shelf break and far over the shelf where it impacts the midshelf upwelling (e.g., strength of the upwelling front and circulation), possibly in concert with wind fluctuations. Internal tides and solitary waves of large amplitude are ubiquitous over the shelf. The observations suggest that these and possibly other sources of mixing play a major role in the overall system dynamics through their impact upon the general shelf thermohaline structure, in particular in the vicinity of the upwelling zone. Systematic alongshore variability in thermohaline properties highlights important limitations of the 2D idealization framework that is frequently used in coastal upwelling studies.

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Alice Pietri, Xavier Capet, Francesco d’Ovidio, Marina Levy, Julien Le Sommer, Jean-Marc Molines, and Hervé Giordani

Abstract

The quasi-geostrophic and the generalized omega equations are the most widely used methods to reconstruct vertical velocity (w) from in-situ data. As observational networks with much higher spatial and temporal resolutions are being designed, the question rises of identifying the approximations and scales at which an accurate estimation of w through the omega equation can be achieved and what are the critical scales and observables needed. In this paper we test different adiabatic omega reconstructions of w over several regions representative of main oceanic regimes of the global ocean in a fully eddy-resolving numerical simulation with a 1=60o horizontal resolution. We find that the best reconstructions are observed in conditions characterized by energetic turbulence and/or weak stratification where near-surface frontal processes are felt deep into the ocean interior. The quasi-geostrophic omega equation gives satisfactory results for scales larger than ~ 10 km horizontally while the improvements using a generalized formulation are substantial only in conditions where frontal turbulent processes are important (providing improvements with satisfactory reconstruction skill down to ~ 5 km in scale). The main sources of uncertainties that could be identified are related to processes responsible for ocean thermal wind imbalance (TWI), which is particularly difficult to account for (especially in observation-based studies) and to the deep flow which is generally improperly accounted for in omega reconstructions through the bottom boundary condition. Nevertheless, the reconstruction of mesoscale vertical velocities may be sufficient to estimate vertical fluxes of oceanic properties in many cases of practical interest.

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