The behaviour of jet currents over a continental slope topography with a possible application to the Northern Current

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Abstract

The Northern Current is a slope current in the northwest Mediterranean that shows high mesoscale variability, generally associated with meander and eddy formation. A barotropic laboratory model of this current is used here to study the role of the bottom topography on the current variability. For this purpose, a source–sink setup in a cylindrical tank placed on a rotating table is used to generate an axisymmetric barotropic current. To study inviscid topographic effects, experiments are performed over a topographic slope and also over a constant-depth setup, the latter being used as a reference for the former. With the aim of obtaining a fully comprehensive view of the vorticity balance at play, the flow may be forced in either azimuthal direction, leading to a "westward" prograde current (similar to the Northern Current) or an "eastward" retrograde current. For slow flows, eastward and westward currents showed similar patterns, dominated by Kelvin–Helmholtz-type instabilities. For high-speed flows, eastward and westward currents showed very different behavior. In eastward currents, the variability is observed to concentrate toward the center of the jet and shows strong meandering formation. Westward currents, instead, showed major variability toward the edges of the jet, together with a strong variability over the uppermost slope, which has been associated here with a topographic Rossby wave trapped over the shelf break. The differences between eastward and westward jets are explained through the balance between shear-induced and topographically induced vorticity at play in each case. Moreover, a model of jets over a beta plane is successfully applied here, allowing its extension to any ambient potential vorticity gradient caused either by latitudinal or bottom depth changes.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)790-810
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Volume35
Issue number5
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 2005

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