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Length scale of the finite-amplitude meanders of shelfbreak fronts

Abstract

Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2015. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 45 (2015): 2598–2620, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-14-0249.1.Through combining analytical arguments and numerical models, this study investigates the finite-amplitude meanders of shelfbreak fronts characterized by sloping isopycnals outcropping at both the surface and the shelfbreak bottom. The objective is to provide a formula for the meander length scale that can explain observed frontal length scale variability and also be verified with observations. Considering the frontal instability to be a mixture of barotropic and baroclinic instability, the derived along-shelf meander length scale formula is [b1/(1 + a1S1/2)]NH/f, where N is the buoyancy frequency; H is the depth of the front; f is the Coriolis parameter; S is the Burger number measuring the ratio of energy conversion associated with barotropic and baroclinic instability; and a1 and b1 are empirical constants. Initial growth rate of the frontal instability is formulated as [b2(1 + a1S1/2)/(1 + a2αS1/2)]NH/L, where α is the bottom slope at the foot of the front, and a2 and b2 are empirical constants. The formulas are verified using numerical sensitivity simulations, and fitting of the simulated and formulated results gives a1 = 2.69, b1 = 14.65, a2 = 5.1 × 103, and b2 = 6.2 × 10−2. The numerical simulations also show development of fast-growing frontal symmetric instability when the minimum initial potential vorticity is negative. Although frontal symmetric instability leads to faster development of barotropic and baroclinic instability at later times, it does not significantly influence the meander length scale. The derived meander length scale provides a framework for future studies of the influences of external forces on shelfbreak frontal circulation and cross-frontal exchange.WGZ and GGG were supported by the National Science Foundation through Grant OCE-1129125.2016-04-0

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