Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Submesoscale Rossby waves on the Antarctic circumpolar current

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Science Advances  28 Mar 2018:
Vol. 4, no. 3, eaao2824
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aao2824

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Abstract

The eastward-flowing Antarctic circumpolar current (ACC) plays a central role in the global ocean overturning circulation and facilitates the exchange of water between the ocean surface and interior. Submesoscale eddies and fronts with scales between 1 and 10 km are regularly observed in the upper ocean and are associated with strong vertical circulations and enhanced stratification. Despite their importance in other locations, comparatively little is known about submesoscales in the Southern Ocean. We present results from new observations, models, and theories showing that submesoscales are qualitatively changed by the strong jet associated with the ACC in the Scotia Sea, east of Drake Passage. Growing submesoscale disturbances develop along a dense filament and are transformed into submesoscale Rossby waves, which propagate upstream relative to the eastward jet. Unlike their counterparts in slower currents, the submesoscale Rossby waves do not destroy the underlying frontal structure. The development of submesoscale instabilities leads to strong net subduction of water associated with a dense outcropping filament, and later, the submesoscale Rossby waves are associated with intense vertical circulations.

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