Role of residual overturning for the sensitivity of southern ocean isopycnal slopes to changes in wind forcing

(Youngs, Madeleine K. and Flierl, Glenn R. and Ferrari, Raffaele), Journal of Physical Oceanography, vol. 49, no. 11, pp. pages, 2019.


The Antarctic Circumpolar Current plays a central role in the ventilation of heat and carbon in the global ocean. In particular, the isopycnal slopes determine where each water mass outcrops and thus how the ocean interacts with the atmosphere. The region-integrated isopycnal slopes have been suggested to be eddy saturated, that is, stay relatively constant as the wind forcing changes, but whether or not the flow is saturated in realistic present day and future parameter regimes is unknown. This study analyzes an idealized two-layer quasigeostrophic channel model forced by a wind stress and a residual overturning generated by a mass flux across the interface between the two layers, with and without a blocking ridge. The sign and strength of the residual overturning set which way the isopycnal slopes change with the wind forcing, leading to an increase in slope with an increase in wind forcing for a positive overturning and a decrease in slope for a negative overturning, following the usual conventions; this behavior is caused by the dominant standing meander weakening as the wind stress weakens causing the isopycnal slopes to become more sensitive to changes in the wind stress and converge with the slopes of a flat-bottomed simulation. Eddy saturation only appears once the wind forcing passes a critical level. These results show that theories for saturation must have both topography and residual overturning in order to be complete and provide a framework for understanding how the isopycnal slopes in the Southern Ocean may change in response to future changes in wind forcing.

doi = 10.1175/JPO-D-19-0072.1

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