Northward flow of Antarctic Bottom Water (AABW) across the Southern Ocean comprises a key component of the global overturning circulation. Yet AABW transport remains poorly constrained by observations and state estimates, and there is presently no means of directly monitoring any component of the Southern Ocean overturning. However, AABW flow is dynamically linked to Southern Ocean surface circulation via the zonal momentum balance, offering potential routes to indirect monitoring of the transport. Exploiting this dynamical link, this study shows that wind stress (WS) fluctuations drive large AABW transport fluctuations on time scales shorter than 2 years, which comprise almost all of the transport variance. This connection occurs due to differing time scales on which topographic and interfacial form stresses respond to wind variability, likely associated with differences in barotropic versus baroclinic Rossby wave propagation. These findings imply that AABW transport variability can largely be reconstructed from the surface WS alone.
Current–topography interactions in the ocean give rise to eddies spanning a wide range of spatial and temporal scales. The latest modeling efforts indicate that coastal and underwater topography are important generation sites for submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs), characterized by horizontal scales of O(0.1−10)km. Using idealized, submesoscale and bottom boundary layer (BBL)-resolving simulations and adopting an integrated vorticity balance formulation, we quantify precisely the role of BBLs in the vorticity generation process. In particular, we show that vorticity generation on topographic slopes is attributable primarily to the torque exerted by the vertical divergence of stress at the bottom. We refer to this as the bottom stress divergence torque (BSDT). BSDT is a fundamentally nonconservative torque that appears as a source term in the integrated vorticity budget and is to be distinguished from the more familiar bottom stress curl (BSC). It is closely connected to the bottom pressure torque (BPT) via the horizontal momentum balance at the bottom and is in fact shown to be the dominant component of BPT in solutions with a well-resolved BBL. This suggests an interpretation of BPT as the sum of a viscous, vorticity-generating component (BSDT) and an inviscid, “flow-turning” component. Companion simulations without bottom drag illustrate that although vorticity generation can still occur through the inviscid mechanisms of vortex stretching and tilting, the wake eddies tend to have weaker circulation, be substantially less energetic, and have smaller spatial scales.
Topographic form stress (TFS) plays a central role in constraining the transport of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), and thus the rate of exchange between the major ocean basins. Topographic form stress generation in the ACC has been linked to the formation of standing Rossby waves, which occur because the current is retrograde (opposing the direction of Rossby wave propagation). However, it is unclear whether TFS similarly retards current systems that are prograde (in the direction of Rossby wave propagation), which cannot arrest Rossby waves. An isopycnal model is used to investigate the momentum balance of wind-driven prograde and retrograde flows in a zonal channel, with bathymetry consisting of either a single ridge or a continental shelf and slope with a meridional excursion. Consistent with previous studies, retrograde flows are almost entirely impeded by TFS, except in the limit of flat bathymetry, whereas prograde flows are typically impeded by a combination of TFS and bottom friction. A barotropic theory for standing waves shows that bottom friction serves to shift the phase of the standing wave’s pressure field from that of the bathymetry, which is necessary to produce TFS. The mechanism is the same in prograde and retrograde flows, but is most efficient when the mean flow arrests a Rossby wave with a wavelength comparable to that of the bathymetry. The asymmetry between prograde and retrograde momentum balances implies that prograde current systems may be more sensitive to changes in wind forcing, for example associated with climate shifts.
Interaction between the atmosphere and ocean in sea ice–covered regions is largely concentrated in leads, which are long, narrow openings between sea ice floes. Refreezing and brine rejection in these leads inject salt that plays a key role in maintaining the polar halocline. The injected salt forms dense plumes that subsequently become baroclinically unstable, producing submesoscale eddies that facilitate horizontal spreading of the salt anomalies. However, it remains unclear which properties of the stratification and leads most strongly influence the vertical and horizontal spreading of lead-input salt anomalies. In this study, the spread of lead-injected buoyancy anomalies by mixed layer and eddy processes are investigated using a suite of idealized numerical simulations. The simulations are complemented by dynamical theories that predict the plume convection depth, horizontal eddy transfer coefficient, and eddy kinetic energy as functions of the ambient stratification and lead properties. It is shown that vertical penetration of buoyancy anomalies is accurately predicted by a mixed layer temperature and salinity budget until the onset of baroclinic instability (~3 days). Subsequently, these buoyancy anomalies are spread horizontally by eddies. The horizontal eddy diffusivity is accurately predicted by a mixing-length scaling, with a velocity scale set by the potential energy released by the sinking salt plume and a length scale set by the deformation radius of the ambient stratification. These findings indicate that the intermittent opening of leads can efficiently populate the polar halocline with submesoscale coherent vortices with diameters of ~10 km, and they provide a step toward parameterizing their effect on the horizontal redistribution of salinity anomalies.
Long-lived anticyclonic eddies (ACs) have been repeatedly observed over several North Atlantic basins characterized by bowl-like topographic depressions. Motivated by these previous findings, the authors conduct numerical simulations of the spindown of eddies initialized in idealized topographic bowls. In experiments with one or two isopycnal layers, it is found that a bowl-trapped AC is an emergent circulation pattern under a wide range of parameters. The trapped AC, often formed by repeated mergers of ACs over the bowl interior, is characterized by anomalously low potential vorticity (PV). Several PV segregation mechanisms that can contribute to the AC formation are examined. In one-layer experiments, the dynamics of the AC are largely determined by a nonlinearity parameter ϵ that quantifies the vorticity of the AC relative to the bowl’s topographic PV gradient. The AC is trapped in the bowl for low ϵ≲1, but for moderate values (0.5≲ϵ≲1) partial PV segregation allows the AC to reside at finite distances from the center of the bowl. For higher ϵ≳1, eddies freely cross the topography and the AC is not confined to the bowl. These regimes are characterized across a suite of model experiments using ϵ and a PV homogenization parameter. Two-layer experiments show that the trapped AC can be top or bottom intensified, as determined by the domain-mean initial vertical energy distribution. These findings contrast with previous theories of mesoscale turbulence over topography that predict the formation of a prograde slope current, but do not predict a trapped AC.
Previous studies have concluded that the wind-input vorticity in ocean gyres is balanced by bottom pressure torques (BPT), when integrated over latitude bands. However, the BPT must vanish when integrated over any area enclosed by an isobath. This constraint raises ambiguities regarding the regions over which BPT should close the vorticity budget, and implies that BPT generated to balance a local wind stress curl necessitates the generation of a compensating, nonlocal BPT and thus nonlocal circulation. This study aims to clarify the role of BPT in wind-driven gyres using an idealized isopycnal model. Experiments performed with a single-signed wind stress curl in an enclosed, sloped basin reveal that BPT balances the winds only when integrated over latitude bands. Integrating over other, dynamically motivated definitions of the gyre, such as barotropic streamlines, yields a balance between wind stress curl and bottom frictional torques. This implies that bottom friction plays a nonnegligible role in structuring the gyre circulation. Nonlocal bottom pressure torques manifest in the form of along-slope pressure gradients associated with a weak basin-scale circulation, and are associated with a transition to a balance between wind stress and bottom friction around the coasts. Finally, a suite of perturbation experiments is used to investigate the dynamics of BPT. To predict the BPT, the authors extend a previous theory that describes propagation of surface pressure signals from the gyre interior toward the coast along planetary potential vorticity contours. This theory is shown to agree closely with the diagnosed contributions to the vorticity budget across the suite of model experiments.
Eastern boundary upwelling systems (EBUSs) are physically and biologically active regions of the ocean with substantial impacts on ocean biogeochemistry, ecology, and global fish catch. Previous studies have used models of varying complexity to study EBUS dynamics, ranging from minimal two-dimensional (2-D) models to comprehensive regional and global models. An advantage of 2-D models is that they are more computationally efficient and easier to interpret than comprehensive regional models, but their key drawback is the lack of explicit representations of important three-dimensional processes that control biology in upwelling systems. These processes include eddy quenching of nutrients and meridional transport of nutrients and heat. The authors present the Meridionally Averaged Model of Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems (MAMEBUS) that aims at combining the benefits of 2-D and 3-D approaches to modeling EBUSs by parameterizing the key 3-D processes in a 2-D framework. MAMEBUS couples the primitive equations for the physical state of the ocean with a nutrient– phytoplankton–zooplankton–detritus model of the ecosystem, solved in terrain-following coordinates. This article defines the equations that describe the tracer, momentum, and biological evolution, along with physical parameterizations of eddy advection, isopycnal mixing, and boundary layer mixing. It describes the details of the numerical schemes and their implementation in the model code, and provides a reference solution validated against observations from the California Current. The goal of MAMEBUS is to facilitate future studies to efficiently explore the wide space of physical and biogeochemical parameters that control the zonal variations in EBUSs.
The oceanic connections between tidewater glaciers and continental shelf waters are modulated and controlled by geometrically complex fjords. These fjords exhibit both overturning circulations and horizontal recirculations, driven by a combination of water mass transformation at the head of the fjord, variability on the continental shelf, and atmospheric forcing. However, it remains unclear which geometric and forcing parameters are the most important in exerting control on the overturning and horizontal recirculation. To address this, idealized numerical simulations are conducted using an isopycnal model of a fjord connected to a continental shelf, which is representative of regions in Greenland and the West Antarctic Peninsula. A range of sensitivity experiments demonstrate that sill height, wind direction/strength, subglacial discharge strength, and depth of offshore warm water are of first-order importance to the overturning circulation, while fjord width is also of leading importance to the horizontal recirculation. Dynamical predictions are developed and tested for the overturning circulation of the entire shelf-to-glacierface domain, subdivided into three regions: the continental shelf extending from the open ocean to the fjord mouth, the sill-overflow at the fjord mouth, and the plume-driven water mass transformation at the fjord head. A vorticity budget is also developed to predict the strength of the horizontal recirculation, which provides a scaling in terms of the overturning and bottom friction. Based on these theories, we may predict glacial melt rates that take into account overturning and recirculation, which may be used to refine estimates of ocean-driven melting of the Greenland and Antarctic ice sheets.
Subsurface-intensified anticyclones are ubiquitous in the ocean, yet their impact on the large-scale transport of heat, salt and chemical tracers is poorly understood. These submesoscale coherent vortices (SCVs) can trap and advect waters thousands of kilometers away from the formation region, providing a transport pathway that is unresolved by low-resolution Earth System Models. However, knowledge of the importance of these eddies for the large scale circulation is hindered by the lack of systematic observations. Here, we take advantage of the global network of Argo floats to identify occurrences of these eddies, which appear as weakly stratified anomalous water masses with Gaussian-shaped vertical structures. We develop a general algorithm to detect subsurface eddies that have propagated away from their source region, and apply it to the database of Argo float profiles, resulting in roughly 4000 detections from more than 20 years of observations. We further group detections into regional populations to identify hot-spots of generation and mechanisms of formation. Analysis of regional SCV statistics reveals important sites of SCV generation in Eastern Boundary Upwelling Systems, marginal sea overflows, and mode water formation regions along major open-ocean fronts. Because of the heat and salt anomaly contained within their cores, SCV could leave a significant imprint on the hydrographic properties of water masses in regions of high SCV density.
Circulation and water mass transformation within the Filchner-Ronne Ice Shelf (FRIS) cavity create precursors to Antarctic bottom water, which closes the global overturning circulation. This water mass transformation is contingent upon a relative low rate of FRIS basal melt, currently around 100–200 Gt/yr. Previous studies have indicated that Antarctic climate changes may induce intrusions of warm modified Warm Deep Water (mWDW) and an order-of-magnitude increase in basal melt, and signatures of mWDW have recently been observed along the face of the FRIS. However, it remains unclear how changes in near-Antarctic climate translate mechanistically to changes in mWDW access to the FRIS cavity. In this study a regional model is developed to investigate FRIS circulation dependence on local atmospheric state. Experiments with modified initial cavity conditions but identical atmospheric states yield bistable “warm” and “cold” FRIS cavity states, with an order-of-magnitude difference in basal melt rates. Idealized atmospheric perturbation experiments reveal that relatively modest perturbations to the katabatic winds shift the FRIS cavity between “warm” and “cold” states, which occur when the FRIS cavity is filled by mWDW or High Salinity Shelf Water (HSSW), respectively. The authors present a conceptual model in which the FRIS cavity state is determined by whether mWDW or HSSW is denser and thus floods the cavity; these states are bistable because the basal melt rate feeds back on the salinity of HSSW. These findings highlight a key role for the katabatic winds in mediating the melt of the FRIS and other Antarctic ice shelves
The southward-flowing deep limb of the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation is composed of both the deep western boundary current (DWBC) and interior pathways. The latter are fed by “leakiness” from the DWBC in the Newfoundland Basin. However, the cause of this leakiness has not yet been explored mechanistically. Here the statistics and dynamics of the DWBC leakiness in the Newfoundland Basin are explored using two float datasets and a high-resolution numerical model. The float leakiness around Flemish Cap is found to be concentrated in several areas (hot spots) that are collocated with bathymetric curvature and steepening. Numerical particle advection experiments reveal that the Lagrangian mean velocity is offshore at these hot spots, while Lagrangian variability is minimal locally. Furthermore, model Eulerian mean streamlines separate from the DWBC to the interior at the leakiness hot spots. This suggests that the leakiness of Lagrangian particles is primarily accomplished by an Eulerian mean flow across isobaths, though eddies serve to transfer around 50% of the Lagrangian particles to the leakiness hot spots via chaotic advection, and rectified eddy transport accounts for around 50% of the offshore flow along the southern face of Flemish Cap. Analysis of the model’s energy and potential vorticity budgets suggests that the flow is baroclinically unstable after separation, but that the resulting eddies induce modest modifications of the mean potential vorticity along streamlines. These results suggest that mean uncompensated leakiness occurs mostly through inertial separation, for which a scaling analysis is presented. Implications for leakiness of other major boundary current systems are discussed.
Paleoclimate proxy evidence suggests that the Atlantic meridional overturning circulation (AMOC) was about 1000 m shallower at the Last Glacial Maximum (LGM) compared to the present. Yet it remains unresolved what caused this glacial shoaling of the AMOC, and many climate models instead simulate a deeper AMOC under LGM forcing. While some studies suggest that Southern Ocean surface buoyancy forcing controls the AMOC depth, others have suggested alternatively that North Atlantic surface forcing or interior diabatic mixing plays the dominant role. To investigate the key processes that set the AMOC depth, here we carry out a number of MITgcm ocean-only simulations with surface forcing fields specified from the simulation results of three coupled climate models that span much of the range of glacial AMOC depth changes in phase 3 of the Paleoclimate Model Intercomparison Project (PMIP3). We find that the MITgcm simulations successfully reproduce the changes in AMOC depth between glacial and modern conditions simulated in these three PMIP3 models. By varying the restoring time scale in the surface forcing, we show that the AMOC depth is more strongly constrained by the surface density field than the surface buoyancy flux field. Based on these results, we propose a mechanism by which the surface density fields in the high latitudes of both hemispheres are connected to the AMOC depth. We illustrate the mechanism using MITgcm simulations with idealized surface forcing perturbations as well as an idealized conceptual geometric model. These results suggest that the AMOC depth is largely determined by the surface density fields in both the North Atlantic and the Southern Ocean.