Frontal dynamics in a California Current System shallow front: 1. Frontal processes and tracer structure

Pallas-Sanz, E, Johnston TMS, Rudnick DL.  2010.  Frontal dynamics in a California Current System shallow front: 1. Frontal processes and tracer structure. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 115

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3-dimensional circulation, california, confluent flow, frontogenesis, Mesoscale features, mixed-layer, northern, ocean fronts, potential vorticity, vertical velocity, wind-stress curl


The three-dimensional dynamics in a shallow front are examined using density and current data from two surveys 100 km offshore of Monterey Bay, California. Survey 1 is forced by down-front winds, and both surveys have considerable cross-front density gradients and flow curvature. The maximum Rossby numbers on the dense side reached maxima of +0.60 in survey 1 and +0.45 in survey 2. Downwelling occurs in regions of confluence (frontogenesis) associated with potential vorticity (PV) change and thermal wind imbalance. Streamers of particulate matter and PV are advected southeastward by the frontal jet and downward. Nonlinear Ekman currents advect dense water over light water in the presence of down-front winds, which leads to upwelling along the front and downwelling on the light side of the front. At sites of active ageostrophic secondary circulation (ASC), induced by frontogenesis or Ekman effects, the observed cross-front ageostrophic velocity is consistent with the diagnosed vertical velocity. Furthermore, in survey 2, ageostrophic divergence may play an important role at the curved front, presumably counteracting quasi-geostrophic frontogenesis due to isopycnal confluence. Downward frictional vertical PV flux below the surface extracts PV from the pycnocline and reinforces the frontogenetic vertical PV flux. PV destruction at the surface is inferred from a low PV anomaly below the mixed layer in survey 2. Since the magnitude of the frontogenetic ASC is only twice the magnitude of Ekman suction, external forcing may have a considerable impact on the vertical heat and PV fluxes.






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