Coherent pathways for subduction from the surface mixed layer at ocean fronts
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In frontal zones, water masses that are tens of kilometers in extent with origins in the mixed layer can be identified in the pycnocline for days to months. Here, we explore the pathways and mechanisms of subduction, the process by which water from the surface mixed layer makes its way into the pycnocline, using a submesoscale-resolving numerical model of a mesoscale front. By identifying Lagrangian trajectories of water parcels that exit the mixed layer, we study the evolution of dynamical properties from a statistical standpoint. Velocity- and buoyancy-gradients increase as water parcels experience both mesoscale (geostrophic) and submesoscale (ageostrophic) frontogenesis and subduct beneath the mixed layer into the stratified pycnocline along isopycnals that outcrop in the mixed layer. Subduction is transient and occurs in coherent regions along the front, the spatial and temporal scales of which influence the scales of the subducted water masses in the pycnocline. An examination of specific subduction events reveals a range of submesoscale features that support subduction. Contrary to the forced submesoscale processes that sequester low potential vorticity (PV) anomalies in the interior, we find that PV can be elevated in subducting water masses. The rate of subduction is of similar magnitude to previous studies (∼100 m/year), but the Lagrangian evolution of properties on water parcels and pathways that are unraveled in this study emphasize the role of submesoscale dynamics coupled with mesoscale frontogenesis.
Author Posting. © American Geophysical Union, 2021. This article is posted here by permission of American Geophysical Union for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 126(5), (2021): e2020JC017042, https://doi.org/10.1029/2020JC017042.
Suggested CitationFreilich, M., & Mahadevan, A. (2021). Coherent pathways for subduction from the surface mixed layer at ocean fronts. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 126(5), e2020JC017042.
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