Symmetric and Baroclinic Instability in Dense Shelf Overflows
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Symmetric and Baroclinic Instability in Dense Shelf Overflows

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  • Journal Title:
    Journal of Physical Oceanography
  • Description:
    In this study, we revisit the problem of rotating dense overflow dynamics by performing nonhydrostatic numerical simulations, resolving submesoscale variability. Thermohaline stratification and buoyancy forcing are based on data from the Eurasian basin of the Arctic Ocean, where overflows are particularly crucial to the exchange of dense water between shelves and deep basins, yet have been studied relatively little. A nonlinear equation of state is used, allowing proper representation of thermohaline structure and mixing. We examine three increasingly complex scenarios: nonrotating 2D, rotating 2D, and rotating 3D. The nonrotating 2D case behaves according to known theory: the gravity current descends alongslope until reaching a relatively shallow neutral buoyancy level. However, in the rotating cases, we have identified novel dynamics: in both 2D and 3D, the submesoscale range is dominated by symmetric instability (SI). Rotation leads to geostrophic adjustment, causing dense water to be confined within the forcing region longer and attain a greater density anomaly. In the 2D case, Ekman drainage leads to descent of the geostrophic jet, forming a highly dense alongslope front. Beams of negative Ertel potential vorticity develop parallel to the slope, initiating SI and vigorous mixing in the overflow. In 3D, baroclinic eddies are responsible for cross-isobath dense water transport, but SI again develops along the slope and at eddy edges. Remarkably, through two different dynamics, the 2D SI-dominated case and 3D eddy-dominated case attain roughly the same final water mass distribution, highlighting the potential role of SI in driving mixing within certain regimes of dense overflows.
  • Source:
    Journal of Physical Oceanography, 49(1), 39-61.
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    CC BY
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