The Marine Layer off Northern California: An Example of Supercritical Channel Flow

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  • 1 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
  • | 2 San Diego State University, San Diego, California
  • | 3 Department of Mechanical Engineering, University California at Irvine, Irvine, California
  • | 4 Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts
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Abstract

During the spring and summer, northerly winds driven by the North Pacific high pressure system are prevalent over the Northern California continental shelf, only interrupted for periods of a few days, when weak or southerly winds occur. In the course of the Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment (CODE), fixed station and observations were made to describe the temporal and spatial structure of the lower atmosphere, and their relation to the strong upwelling of coastal waters in a region extending up to 40 km offshore and 100 km along the coast. These observations suggest that atmospheric conditions during the spring and summer usually fall into one of three categories: the surface wind can be everywhere weak (Pattern 1), it can blow at large speeds in a uniform pattern (Pattern 2), or finally the structure of the northerly surface wind can be complex, with large changes in the wind speed and corresponding changes in the surface pressure over short spatial scales (Pattern 3), The latter pattern, which occurs with generally northerly winds, is characterized by a strong low-level inversion and the spatial structure of the surface wind is correlated with the coastal topography. The inversion acts as a material interface, and the marine layer behaves as a supercritical channel flow, when the Froude number is greater than one: oblique expansion waves and hydraulic jumps, associated with changes in the orientation of the coastline, account for the observed spatial structure of the flow. Observations from mid-latitudes on the eastern side of other ocean basins suggest that similar supercritical conditions in the marine layer may prevail there also.

Abstract

During the spring and summer, northerly winds driven by the North Pacific high pressure system are prevalent over the Northern California continental shelf, only interrupted for periods of a few days, when weak or southerly winds occur. In the course of the Coastal Ocean Dynamics Experiment (CODE), fixed station and observations were made to describe the temporal and spatial structure of the lower atmosphere, and their relation to the strong upwelling of coastal waters in a region extending up to 40 km offshore and 100 km along the coast. These observations suggest that atmospheric conditions during the spring and summer usually fall into one of three categories: the surface wind can be everywhere weak (Pattern 1), it can blow at large speeds in a uniform pattern (Pattern 2), or finally the structure of the northerly surface wind can be complex, with large changes in the wind speed and corresponding changes in the surface pressure over short spatial scales (Pattern 3), The latter pattern, which occurs with generally northerly winds, is characterized by a strong low-level inversion and the spatial structure of the surface wind is correlated with the coastal topography. The inversion acts as a material interface, and the marine layer behaves as a supercritical channel flow, when the Froude number is greater than one: oblique expansion waves and hydraulic jumps, associated with changes in the orientation of the coastline, account for the observed spatial structure of the flow. Observations from mid-latitudes on the eastern side of other ocean basins suggest that similar supercritical conditions in the marine layer may prevail there also.

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