Wind-driven circulation on a shallow, stratified shelf
Austin, Jay A.
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LocationNorth Carolina Inner shelf
Data from the Coastal Ocean Processes Inner Shelf Study are analyzed to determine atmospheric forcing characteristics and the heat balance of the inner shelf, and are used as motivation for a numerical study of inner shelf circulation during upwelling and downwelling. Variation in meteorological forcing on the North Carolina Inner shelf is shown to be dominated by synoptic weather systems. The structure of cold fronts, which are the dominant synoptic feature, and the local meteorological conditions they produce result in a strong correlation between the surface heat flux and the wind orientation. This has implications for the heat balance of the inner shelf, which is considered next. During stratified conditions (observed during August 1994), cross-shelf heat fluxes due to Ekman dynamics dominate variation in heat content of the inner shelf, while during weakly-stratified conditions (observed during October 1994), the surface heat flux dominated variation in heat content. Both processes are correlated with the alongshelf wind, implying that the heat balance of the inner shelf can be modeled largely in terms of the alongshelf wind. The dominance of cross-shelf processes during stratified conditions motivated numerical studies of upwelling and downwelling. It was found that the feedback between mixing and stratification played a role in determining the strength of the circulation on the inner shelf, which differed between upwelling and downwelling. During upwelling, dense water is brought onto the inner shelf from below the pycnocline, producing vertical stratification, lowering eddy viscosities, and enhancing the inner shelf circulation. In contrast, during downwelling, circulation was weakened by the presence of stratification. These circulation patterns are discussed in the context of coastal observations, and the implications for cross-shelf transport and exchange processes are considered.
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 August 1998
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