Centrifugal and symmetric instability during Ekman adjustment of the bottom boundary layer

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Jacob O Wenegrat, Leif N. Thomas


Flow along isobaths of a sloping lower boundary generates an across-isobath Ekman transport in the bottom boundary layer. When this Ekman transport is down the slope it causes convective mixing --- much like a downfront wind in the surface boundary layer --- destroying stratification and potential vorticity. In this manuscript we show how this can lead to the development of a forced centrifugal or symmetric instability regime, where the potential vorticity flux generated by friction along the boundary is balanced by submesoscale instabilities that return the boundary layer potential vorticity to zero. This balance provides a strong constraint on the boundary layer evolution, which we use to develop theory that explains the evolution of the boundary layer thickness, the rate at which the instabilities extract energy from the geostrophic flow field, and the magnitude and vertical structure of the dissipation. Finally, we show using theory and a high-resolution numerical model how the presence of centrifugal or symmetric instabilities alters the time-dependent Ekman adjustment of the boundary layer, delaying Ekman buoyancy arrest and enhancing the total energy removed from the balanced flow field. Submesoscale instabilities of the bottom boundary layer may therefore play an important, largely overlooked, role in the energetics of flow over topography in the ocean.




Oceanography, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Bottom boundary layer, Ekman, Geophysical fluid dynamics, Oceanography, Physical oceanography, Submesoscale


Published: 2020-02-04 14:01


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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