The wind-driven double-gyre circulation in a rectangular basin goes through several dynamical regimes as the amount of lateral friction is decreased. This paper studies the transition to irregular flow in the double-gyre circulation by applying dynamical systems methodology to a quasi-geostrophic, equivalent-barotropic model with a 10-km resolution. The origin of the irregularities, in space and time, is the occurrence of homoclinic bifurcations that involve phase-space behavior far from stationary solutions. The connection between these homoclinic bifurcations and earlier transitions, which occur at larger lateral friction, is explained. The earlier transitions, such as pitchfork and asymmetric Hopf bifurcation, only involve the nonlinear saturation of linear instabilities, while the homoclinic bifurcations are associated with genuinely nonlinear behavior. The sequence of bifurcations—pitchfork, Hopf, and homoclinic—is independent of the lateral friction and may be described as the unfolding of a singularity that occurs in the frictionless, Hamiltonian limit of the governing equations. Two distinct chaotic regimes are identified: Lorenz chaos at relatively large lateral friction versus Shilnikov chaos at relatively small lateral friction. Both types of homoclinic bifurcations induce chaotic behavior of the recirculation gyres that is dominated by relaxation oscillations with a well-defined period. The relevance of these results to the mid-latitude oceans' observed low-frequency variations is discussed. A previously documented 7-year peak in observed North-Atlantic variability is shown to exist across a hierarchy of models that share the gyre modes and homoclinic bifurcations discussed herein.
Singular spectrum analysis (SSA) along with its multivariate extension (M-SSA) provides an efficient way to identify weak oscillatory behavior in high-dimensional data. To prevent the misinterpretation of stochastic fluctuations in short time series as oscillations, Monte Carlo (MC)–type hypothesis tests provide objective criteria for the statistical significance of the oscillatory behavior. Procrustes target rotation is introduced here as a key method for refining previously available MC tests. The proposed modification helps reduce the risk of type-I errors, and it is shown to improve the test’s discriminating power. The reliability of the proposed methodology is examined in an idealized setting for a cluster of harmonic oscillators immersed in red noise. Furthermore, the common method of data compression into a few leading principal components, prior to M-SSA, is reexamined, and its possibly negative effects are discussed. Finally, the generalized Procrustes test is applied to the analysis of interannual variability in the North Atlantic’s sea surface temperature and sea level pressure fields. The results of this analysis provide further evidence for shared mechanisms of variability between the Gulf Stream and the North Atlantic Oscillation in the interannual frequency band.