Hyperbolicity in temperature and flow fields during the formation of a Loop Current ring
Loop Current rings (LCRs) are among the largest mesoscale eddies in the world ocean. They arise when bulges formed by the Loop Current in the Gulf of Mexico close off. The LCR formation process may take several weeks, and there may be several separations and reattachments before final separation occurs. It is well established that this period is characterized by a persistent saddle point in the sea surface height field, as seen in both model and satellite data. We present here a detailed study of this saddle region during the formation of Eddy Franklin in 2010, over multiple days and at several depths. Using a data-assimilating Gulf of Mexico implementation of the HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM), we compare the vertical structure of the currents and temperature fields on 5 and 10 June 2010. Finite-time Lyapunov exponents (FTLE) are computed from the surface down to 200 m to estimate the location of relevant transport barriers. Several new features of the saddle region associated with LCR formation are revealed: the ridges in the FTLE fields are shown to be excellent surrogates for the manifolds delineating the material flow structures with only slight degradation at depth. The intersection of the ridges representing stable and unstable manifolds drops nearly vertically through the water column at both times; remarkably, the material boundary shapes are maintained even as they are advected. Moreover, velocity stagnation points and saddle points in the temperature field are consistently found near the intersections at all depths, and their geographic positions are also nearly constant with depth.