On the role of topography and of boundary forcing in the ocean circulation

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Cessi, Paola
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Ocean circulation
Oceanic mixing
This thesis consists of two loosely related problems, both of which analyze some consequences of the failure of Sverdrup relation. In the first part, Chapters 2 and 3, the Sverdrup relation is invalidated because substantial flow is obtained at the bottom where topography exists. The eddies play an essential role in transfering momentum vertically from the surface, where the forcing is applied, to the bottom, which is otherwise unforced. If the topography has a structure in the longitudinal direction, then the inviscid theory predicts the occurence of strong jets in the interior of the model ocean. According to the structure of the topography these internal jets can occur in both vertically homeogenous and baroclinic oceans. If the topographic slope changes sign, then one kind of jets is observed both in stratified and in homogeneous oceans. This phenomenon is robust to moderate amounts of dissipation and is not disturbed by the occurrence of recirculating gyres within the basin. If the topographic slope is constant, then another kind of internal jets is observed, and it occurs in stratified models only. I was unable to observe this kind of jets in the presence of weak dissipation. The reason for this failure is twofold: on one hand friction, especially interfacial friction, tends to make the flow more barotropic (and we believe that indeed this is one of the processes that the eddies accomplish in a stratified fluid) and therefore the phenomena that rely strongly on baroclinicity are discouraged. On the other hand, reduction of the dissipation leads to the onset of a strong recirculating, inertial gyre which, although confined in space, affects the global properties of the flow. In the second part of the thesis (Chapters 4 and 5) I developed a simple model of the recirculating, inertial gyre. Again the dynamics of this feature are far from being in Sverdrup balance. In this case inertia is responsible for the failure of Sverdrup relation, together with the eddy field which provides a mean for transfering momentum vertically and laterally into regions away from where the forcing is applied. In this model there is no direct forcing in the recirculation region, and the input of momentum is confined to the boundary currents surrounding the gyre, for example the separated Gulf Stream. One of the results of the recirculation model is the prediction of its transport. It is shown that most of the transport is depth independent, i.e. it can be calculated without detailed knowledge of the density structure of the ocean. It is also shown that the "barotropic" part of the transport increases as the cube of the meridional extent of the gyre.
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 1987
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Cessi, P. (1987). On the role of topography and of boundary forcing in the ocean circulation [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server. https://doi.org/10.1575/1912/3947
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