Assimilation of Altimeter Data into a Quasigeostrophic Model of the Gulf Stream System Part I: Dynamical Considerations

Antonietta Capotondi MIT-WHOI Joint Program, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Paola Malanotte-Rizzoli Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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William R. Holland National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado

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Abstract

The dynamical consequences of constraining a numerical model with sea surface height data have been investigated. The model used for this study is a quasigeostrophic model of the Gulf Stream region. The data that have been assimilated are maps of sea surface height obtained as the superposition of sea surface height variability deduced from the Geosat altimeter measurements and a mean field constructed from historical hydrographic data. The method used for assimilating the data is the nudging technique. Nudging has been implemented in such a way as to achieve a high degree of convergence of the surface model fields toward the observations. The assimilations of the surface data is thus equivalent to the prescription of a surface pressure boundary condition. The authors analyzed the mechanisms of the model adjustment and the characteristics of the resultant equilibrium state when the surface data are assimilated. Since the surface data are the superposition of a mean component and an eddy component, in order to understand the relative role of these two components in determining the characteristics of the final equilibrium state, two different experiments have been considered: in the first experiment only the climatological mean field is assimilated, while in the second experiment the total surface streamfunction field (mean plus eddies) has been used. It is shown that the model behavior in the presence of the surface data constraint can be conveniently described in terms of baroclinic Fofonoff modes. The prescribed mean component of the surface data acts as a “surface topography” in this problem. Its presence determines a distortion of the geostrophic contours in the subsurface layers, thus constraining the mean circulation in those layers. The intensity of the mean flow is determined by the inflow/outflow conditions at the open boundaries, as well as by eddy forcing and dissipation.

Abstract

The dynamical consequences of constraining a numerical model with sea surface height data have been investigated. The model used for this study is a quasigeostrophic model of the Gulf Stream region. The data that have been assimilated are maps of sea surface height obtained as the superposition of sea surface height variability deduced from the Geosat altimeter measurements and a mean field constructed from historical hydrographic data. The method used for assimilating the data is the nudging technique. Nudging has been implemented in such a way as to achieve a high degree of convergence of the surface model fields toward the observations. The assimilations of the surface data is thus equivalent to the prescription of a surface pressure boundary condition. The authors analyzed the mechanisms of the model adjustment and the characteristics of the resultant equilibrium state when the surface data are assimilated. Since the surface data are the superposition of a mean component and an eddy component, in order to understand the relative role of these two components in determining the characteristics of the final equilibrium state, two different experiments have been considered: in the first experiment only the climatological mean field is assimilated, while in the second experiment the total surface streamfunction field (mean plus eddies) has been used. It is shown that the model behavior in the presence of the surface data constraint can be conveniently described in terms of baroclinic Fofonoff modes. The prescribed mean component of the surface data acts as a “surface topography” in this problem. Its presence determines a distortion of the geostrophic contours in the subsurface layers, thus constraining the mean circulation in those layers. The intensity of the mean flow is determined by the inflow/outflow conditions at the open boundaries, as well as by eddy forcing and dissipation.

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