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Creators/Authors contains: "Wolfe, Christopher L. P."

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  1. Abstract

    Mixing along isopycnals plays an important role in the transport and uptake of oceanic tracers. Isopycnal mixing is commonly quantified by a tracer diffusivity. Previous studies have estimated the tracer diffusivity using the rate of dispersion of surface drifters, subsurface floats, or numerical particles advected by satellite‐derived velocity fields. This study shows that the diffusivity can be more efficiently estimated from the dispersion of coherent mesoscale eddies. Coherent eddies are identified and tracked as the persistent sea surface height extrema in both a two‐layer quasigeostrophic (QG) model and an idealized primitive equation (PE) model. The Lagrangian diffusivity is estimated using the tracks of these coherent eddies and compared to the diagnosed Eulerian diffusivity. It is found that the meridional coherent eddy diffusivity approaches a stable value within about 20–40 days in both models. In the QG model, the coherent eddy diffusivity is a good approximation to the upper‐layer tracer diffusivity in a broad range of flow regimes, except for small values of bottom friction or planetary vorticity gradient, where the motions of same‐sign eddies are correlated over long distances. In the PE model, the tracer diffusivity has a complicated vertical structure and the coherent eddy diffusivity is correlated with the tracer diffusivity at the e‐folding depth of the energy‐containing eddies where the intrinsic speed of the coherent eddies matches the rms eddy velocity. These results suggest that the oceanic tracer diffusivity at depth can be estimated from the movements of coherent mesoscale eddies, which are routinely tracked from satellite observations.

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  2. Abstract

    Isopycnal mixing of tracers is important for ocean dynamics and biogeochemistry. Previous studies have primarily focused on the horizontal structure of mixing, but what controls its vertical structure is still unclear. This study investigates the vertical structure of the isopycnal tracer diffusivity diagnosed by a multiple‐tracer inversion method in an idealized basin circulation model. The first two eigenvalues of the symmetric part of the 3D diffusivity tensor are approximately tangent to isopycnal surfaces. The isopycnal mixing is anisotropic, with principal directions of the large and small diffusivities generally oriented along and across the mean flow direction. The cross‐stream diffusivity can be reconstructed from the along‐stream diffusivity after accounting for suppression of mixing by the mean flow. In the circumpolar channel and the upper ocean in the gyres, the vertical structure of the along‐stream diffusivity follows that of the rms eddy velocity times a depth‐independent local energy‐containing scale estimated from the sea surface height. The diffusivity in the deep ocean in the gyres instead follows the profile of the eddy kinetic energy times a depth‐independent mixing time scale. The transition between the two mixing regimes is attributed to the dominance of nonlinear interactions and linear waves in the upper and deep ocean, respectively, distinguished by a nonlinearity parameter. A formula is proposed that accounts for both regimes and captures the vertical variation of diffusivities better than extant theories. These results inform efforts to parameterize the vertical structure of isopycnal mixing in coarse‐resolution ocean models.

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  3. Abstract

    The Gulf Stream (GS) is expected to slow and shift poleward over the next century due to climate change. We investigate whether such changes are already observable in the altimetric record (1993–2018) using along‐track altimetry. Decadal trends in latitude, speed, transport, and width are calculated in stream‐following coordinates to avoid spurious signals due to changes in higher‐frequency GS variability. Statistically significant trends are few and apparently randomly distributed. Further, small changes to the length of the record lead to large changes in the trends and their significance. These results suggest that the current observations are insufficient to detect significant trends in these metrics. If the trends continue at the current rate, detection of trends at more than half of the altimetry tracks would require 22–23 additional years of observations for latitude and transport and 44 additional years for speed.

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  4. Abstract

    Tropical modes of variability, including the Madden‐Julian Oscillation (MJO) and the El Niño‐Southern Oscillation (ENSO), are challenging to represent in climate models. Previous studies suggest their fundamental dependence on zonal asymmetry, but such dependence is rarely addressed with fully coupled ocean dynamics. This study fills the gap by using fully coupled, idealized Community Earth System Model (CESM) and comparing two nominally ocean‐covered configurations with and without a meridional boundary. For the MJO‐like intraseasonal mode, its separation from equatorial Kelvin waves and the eastward propagation of its convective and dynamic signals depend on the zonal gradient of the mean state. For the ENSO‐like interannual mode, in the absence of the ocean's meridional boundary, a circum‐equatorial dominant mode emerges with distinct ocean dynamics. The interpretation of the dependence of these modes on zonal asymmetry is relevant to their representation in realistic climate models.

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  5. Abstract

    Idealized models can reveal insights into Earth’s climate system by reducing its complexities. However, their potential is undermined by the scarcity of fully coupled idealized models with components comparable to contemporary, comprehensive Earth System Models. To fill this gap, we compare and contrast the climates of two idealized planets which build on the Simpler Models initiative of the Community Earth System Model (CESM). Using the fully coupled CESM, the Aqua configuration is ocean‐covered except for two polar land caps, and the Ridge configuration has an additional pole‐to‐pole grid‐cell‐wide continent. Contrary to most sea surface temperature profiles assumed for atmosphere‐only aquaplanet experiments with the thermal maximum on the equator, the coupled Aqua configuration is characterized by a global cold belt of wind‐driven equatorial upwelling, analogous to the eastern Pacific cold tongue. The presence of the meridional boundary on Ridge introduces zonal asymmetry in thermal and circulation features, similar to the contrast between western and eastern Pacific. This zonal asymmetry leads to a distinct climate state from Aqua, cooled by ∼2°C via the radiative feedback of clouds and water vapor. The meridional boundary of Ridge is also crucial for producing a more Earth‐like climate state compared to Aqua, including features of atmospheric and ocean circulation, the seasonal cycle of the Intertropical Convergence Zone, and the meridional heat transport. The mean climates of these two basic configurations provide a baseline for exploring other idealized ocean geometries, and their application for investigating various features and scale interactions in the coupled climate system.

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  6. The Gulf Stream is bounded to the north by a strong temperature front known as the North Wall. The North Wall is subject to variability on a wide range of temporal and spatial scales—on interannual time scales, the dominant mode of variability is a longitudinally coherent north–south migration. North Wall variability since 1970 has been characterized by regular oscillations with a period of approximately nine years. This periodic variability, and its relationship to major modes of Atlantic climate variability, is examined in the frequency domain. The North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO) and the Atlantic meridional mode (AMM) both covary with the North Wall on decadal time scales. The NAO leads the North Wall by about one year, whereas the covariability between the North Wall and the AMM is synchronous (no lag). Covariability between the North Wall and the NAO is further examined in terms of the centers of action comprising the NAO: the Icelandic low and Azores high. It is found that the strength of the Icelandic low and its latitude as well as the strength of the Azores high play a role in decadal North Wall variability.

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