On quadratic bottom drag, geostrophic turbulence, and oceanic mesoscale eddies

Arbic, Brian K.; Scott, Robert B.. 2008 On quadratic bottom drag, geostrophic turbulence, and oceanic mesoscale eddies. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 38 (1). 84-103. 10.1175/2007JPO3653.1

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Many investigators have idealized the oceanic mesoscale eddy field with numerical simulations of geostrophic turbulence forced by a horizontally homogeneous, baroclinically unstable mean flow. To date such studies have employed linear bottom Ekman friction (hereinafter, linear drag). This paper presents simulations of two-layer baroclinically unstable geostrophic turbulence damped by quadratic bottom drag, which is generally thought to be more realistic. The goals of the paper are 1) to describe the behavior of quadratically damped turbulence as drag strength changes, using previously reported behaviors of linearly damped turbulence as a point of comparison, and 2) to compare the eddy energies, baroclinicities, and horizontal scales in both quadratic and linear drag simulations with observations and to discuss the constraints these comparisons place on the form and strength of bottom drag in the ocean. In both quadratic and linear drag simulations, large barotropic eddies develop with weak damping, large equivalent barotropic eddies develop with strong damping, and the comparison in goal 2 above is closest when the nondimensional friction strength parameter is of order 1. Typical values of the quadratic drag coefficient (cd 0.0025) and of boundary layer depths (Hb 50 m) imply that the quadratic friction strength parameter cdLd/Hb, where Ld is the deformation radius, may indeed be of order 1 in the ocean. Model eddies are realistic over a wider range of friction strengths when drag is quadratic, because of a reduced sensitivity to friction strength in that case. The quadratic parameter is independent of the mean shear, in contrast to the linear parameter. Plots of eddy length scales, computed from satellite altimeter data, versus mean shear and versus rough estimates of the friction strength parameters suggest that both linear and quadratic bottom drag may be active in the ocean. Topographic wave drag contains terms that are linear in the bottom flow, thus providing some justification for the use of linear bottom drag in models.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI): 10.1175/2007JPO3653.1
ISSN: 0022-3670
Date made live: 03 Mar 2009 +0 (UTC)

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