Formation of intrathermocline eddies at ocean fronts by wind-driven destruction of potential vorticity
Thomas, Leif N.
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A mechanism for the generation of intrathermocline eddies (ITEs) at wind-forced fronts is examined using a high resolution numerical simulation. Favorable conditions for ITE formation result at fronts forced by “down-front” winds, i.e. winds blowing in the direction of the frontal jet. Down-front winds exert frictional forces that reduce the potential vorticity (PV) within the surface boundary in the frontal outcrop, providing a source for the low-PV water that is the materia prima of ITEs. Meandering of the front drives vertical motions that subduct the low-PV water into the pycnocline, pooling it into the coherent anticyclonic vortex of a submesoscale ITE. As the fluid is subducted along the outcropping frontal isopycnal, the low-PV water, which at the surface is associated with strongly baroclinic flow, re-expresses itself as water with nearly zero absolute vorticity. This generation of strong anticyclonic vorticity results from the tilting of the horizontal vorticity of the frontal jet, not from vortex squashing. During the formation of the ITE, high-PV water from the pycnocline is upwelled alongside the subducting low-PV surface water. The positive correlation between the ITE’s velocity and PV fields results in an upward, along-isopycnal eddy PV flux that scales with the surface frictional PV flux driven by the wind. The relationship between the eddy and wind-induced frictional PV flux is nonlocal in time, as the eddy PV flux persists long after the wind forcing is shut off. The ITE’s PV flux affects the large-scale flow by driving an eddy-induced transport or bolus velocity down the outcropping isopycnal layer with a magnitude that scales with the Ekman velocity.
Author Posting. © Elsevier B.V., 2008. This is the author's version of the work. It is posted here by permission of Elsevier B.V. for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans45 (2008): 252-273, doi:10.1016/j.dynatmoce.2008.02.002.
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