Downfront winds over buoyant coastal plumes

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Spall, Michael A.
Thomas, Leif N.
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Coastal flows
Ekman pumping/transport
Mesoscale processes
Wind stress
Downfront, or downwelling favorable, winds are commonly found over buoyant coastal plumes. It is known that these winds can result in mixing of the plume with the ambient water and that the winds influence the transport, spatial extent, and stability of the plumes. In the present study, the interaction of the Ekman velocity in the surface layer and baroclinic instability supported by the strong horizontal density gradient of the plume is explored with the objective of understanding the potential vorticity and buoyancy budgets. The approach makes use of an idealized numerical model and scaling theory. It is shown that when winds are present the weak stratification resulting from vertical mixing and the strong baroclinicity of the front results in near-zero average potential vorticity q. For weak to moderate winds, the reduction of q by diapycnal mixing is balanced by the generation of q through the geostrophic stress term in the regions of strong horizontal density gradients and stable stratification. However, for very strong winds the wind stress overwhelms the geostrophic stress and leads to a reduction in q, which is balanced by the vertical mixing term. In the absence of winds, the geostrophic stress dominates mixing and the flow rapidly restratifies. Nonlinearity, extremes of relative vorticity and vertical velocity, and mixing are all enhanced by the presence of a coast. Scaling estimates developed for the eddy buoyancy flux, the surface potential vorticity flux, and the diapycnal mixing rate compare well with results diagnosed from a series of numerical model calculations.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2016. 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 46 (2016): 3139-3154, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-16-0042.1.
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Journal of Physical Oceanography 46 (2016): 3139-3154
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