The seasonal cycle of submesoscale flows

Brannigan, Liam; Marshall, David P.; Naveira-Garabato, Alberto; Nurser, A.J.George. 2015 The seasonal cycle of submesoscale flows. Ocean Modelling, 92. 69-84.

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The seasonal cycle of submesoscale flows in the upper ocean is investigated in an idealised model domain analogous to mid-latitude open ocean regions. Submesoscale processes become much stronger as the resolution is increased, though with limited evidence for convergence of the solutions. Frontogenetical processes increase horizontal buoyancy gradients when the mixed layer is shallow in summer, while overturning instabilities weaken the horizontal buoyancy gradients as the mixed layer deepens in winter. The horizontal wavenumber spectral slopes of surface temperature and velocity are steep in summer and then shallow in winter. This is consistent with stronger mixed layer instabilities developing as the mixed layer deepens and energising the submesoscale. The degree of geostrophic balance falls as the resolution is made finer, with evidence for stronger non-linear and high-frequency processes becoming more important as the mixed layer deepens. Ekman buoyancy fluxes can be much stronger than surface cooling and are locally dominant in setting the stratification and the potential vorticity at fronts, particularly in the early winter. Up to 30% of the mixed layer volume in winter has negative potential vorticity and symmetric instability is predicted inside mesoscale eddies as well as in the frontal regions outside of the vortices.

Item Type: Publication - Article
Digital Object Identifier (DOI):
ISSN: 14635003
Additional Keywords: Submesoscale; Mixed layer fronts; Frontogenesis; Symmetric instability; Baroclinic instability; Seasonal cycle
NORA Subject Terms: Marine Sciences
Date made live: 26 May 2015 12:08 +0 (UTC)

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