Eddy-mean flow interactions in western boundary current jets
Waterman, Stephanie N.
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This thesis examines the nature of eddy-mean flow interactions in western boundary current jets and recirculation gyre dynamics from both theoretical and observational perspectives. It includes theoretical studies of eddy-mean flow interactions in idealized configurations relevant to western boundary current jet systems, namely (i) a study of the mechanism by which eddies generated from a localized forcing drive mean recirculation gyres through the process of nonlinear rectification; and (ii) a study of the role of eddies in the downstream evolution of a baroclinic jet subject to mixed instabilities. It also includes an observational analysis to characterize eddy-mean flow interactions in the Kuroshio Extension using data from the downstream location of maximum eddy kinetic energy in the jet. New insights are presented into a rectification mechanism by which eddies drive the recirculation gyres observed in western boundary current systems. Via this mechanism, eddies drive the recirculations by an up-gradient eddy potential vorticity flux inside a localized region of eddy activity. The effectiveness of the process depends on the properties of the energy radiation from the region, which in turn depends on the population of waves excited. In the zonally-evolving western boundary current jet, eddies also act to stabilize the unstable jet through down-gradient potential vorticity fluxes. In this configuration, the role of eddies depends critically on their downstream location relative to where the unstable time-mean jet first becomes stabilized by the eddy activity. The zonal advection of eddy activity from upstream of this location is fundamental to the mechanism permitting the eddies to drive the mean flows. Observational results are presented that provide the first clear evidence of a northern recirculation gyre in the Kuroshio Extension, as well as support for the hypothesis that the recirculations are, at least partially, eddy-driven. Support for the idealized studies’ relevance to the oceanic regime is provided both by indications that various model simplifications are appropriate to the observed system, as well as by demonstrated consistencies between model predictions and observational results in the downstream development of time-mean and eddy properties.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 2009.
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