Reevaluating the roles of eddies in multiple barotropic wind-driven gyres
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Multiple-gyre ocean models have a weaker mean subtropical circulation than single-gyre calculations with the same viscosity and subtropical forcing. Traditionally, this reduction in circulation is attributed to an intergyre eddy vorticity flux that cancels some of the wind input, part of which does not require a Lagrangian mass exchange (theory of dissipative meandering). Herein the intergyre eddy vorticity flux is shown to be a controlling factor in barotropic models at high Reynolds number only with exactly antisymmetric gyres and slip boundary conditions. Almost no intergyre flux occurs when no-slip boundary conditions are used, yet the subtropical gyre is still significantly weaker in multiple-gyre calculations. Sinuous modes of instability present only in multiple gyres are shown here to vastly increase the eddy vorticity transport efficiency. This increase in efficiency reduces the mean circulation necessary for equilibrium. With slip boundary conditions, the intergyre eddy transport is possibly much larger. However, with wind forcing relevant for the ocean—two unequal gyres—a mean flow flux of vorticity rather than an eddy flux between the regions of opposing wind forcing is increasingly important with increasing Reynolds number. A physical rationalization of the differing results is provided by diagnosis of the equilibrium vorticity budget and eddy transport efficiency. Calculations varying 1) boundary conditions, 2) sources and sinks of vorticity, 3) eddy transport efficiency, and 4) the degree of symmetry of the gyres are discussed.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2005. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 35 (2005): 1263–1278, doi:10.1175/JPO2743.1.