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The Dependence of Southern Ocean Meridional Overturning on Wind Stress

Abernathey, Ryan Patrick; Marshall, John; Ferreira, David

An eddy-resolving numerical model of a zonal flow, meant to resemble the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, is described and analyzed using the framework of J. Marshall and T. Radko. In addition to wind and buoyancy forcing at the surface, the model contains a sponge layer at the northern boundary that permits a residual meridional overturning circulation (MOC) to exist at depth. The strength of the residual MOC is diagnosed for different strengths of surface wind stress. It is found that the eddy circulation largely compensates for the changes in Ekman circulation. The extent of the compensation and thus the sensitivity of the MOC to the winds depend on the surface boundary condition. A fixed-heat-flux surface boundary severely limits the ability of the MOC to change. An interactive heat flux leads to greater sensitivity. To explain the MOC sensitivity to the wind strength under the interactive heat flux, transformed Eulerian-mean theory is applied, in which the eddy diffusivity plays a central role in determining the eddy response. A scaling theory for the eddy diffusivity, based on the mechanical energy balance, is developed and tested; the average magnitude of the diffusivity is found to be proportional to the square root of the wind stress. The MOC sensitivity to the winds based on this scaling is compared with the true sensitivity diagnosed from the experiments.

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Also Published In

Journal of Physical Oceanography

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
March 24, 2016