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Topographic generation of submesoscale centrifugal instability and energy dissipation

Abstract : Most of the ocean kinetic energy is contained in the large scale currents and the vigorous geostrophic eddy field, at horizontal scales of order 100 km. To achieve equilibrium the geostrophic currents must viscously dissipate their kinetic energy at much smaller scale. However, geostrophic turbulence is characterized by an inverse cascade of energy towards larger scale, and the pathways of energy toward dissipation are still in question. Here, we present a mechanism, in the context of the Gulf Stream, where energy is transferred from the geostrophic flow to submesoscale wakes through anticyclonic vertical vorticity generation in the bottom boundary layer. The submesoscale turbulence leads to elevated local dissipation and mixing outside the oceanic boundary layers. This process is generic for boundary slope currents that flow in the direction of Kelvin wave propagation. Topographic generation of submesoscale flows potentially provides a new and significant route to energy dissipation for geostrophic flows.
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Jonathan Gula, M. Jeroen Molemaker, James C. Mcwilliams. Topographic generation of submesoscale centrifugal instability and energy dissipation. Nature Communications, 2016, 7, 105, p. 1-12. ⟨10.1038/ncomms12811⟩. ⟨insu-03682697⟩

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