Research ArticleOCEANOGRAPHY

Maintenance of mid-latitude oceanic fronts by mesoscale eddies

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Science Advances  31 Jul 2020:
Vol. 6, no. 31, eaba7880
DOI: 10.1126/sciadv.aba7880


Oceanic fronts associated with strong western boundary current extensions vent a vast amount of heat into the atmosphere, anchoring mid-latitude storm tracks and facilitating ocean carbon sequestration. However, it remains unclear how the surface heat reservoir is replenished by ocean processes to sustain the atmospheric heat uptake. Using high-resolution climate simulations, we find that the vertical heat transport by ocean mesoscale eddies acts as an important heat supplier to the surface ocean in frontal regions. This vertical eddy heat transport is not accounted for by the prevailing inviscid and adiabatic ocean dynamical theories such as baroclinic instability and frontogenesis but is tightly related to the atmospheric forcing. Strong surface cooling associated with intense winds in winter promotes turbulent mixing in the mixed layer, destructing the vertical shear of mesoscale eddies. The restoring of vertical shear induces an ageostrophic secondary circulation transporting heat from the subsurface to surface ocean.

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