Impact of dense-water flow over a sloping bottom on open-sea circulation: laboratory experiments and an Ionian Sea (Mediterranean) example

Gačić, Miroslav; Ursella, Laura; Kovačević, Vedrana; Menna, Milena; Malačič, Vlado; Bensi, Manuel; Negretti, Maria-Eletta; Cardin, Vanessa; Orlić, Mirko; Sommeria, Joël; Viana Barreto, Ricardo; Viboud, Samuel; Valran, Thomas; Petelin, Boris; Siena, Giuseppe; Rubino, Angelo

The North Ionian Gyre (NIG) displays prominent inversions on decadal scales. We investigate the role of internal forcing induced by changes in the horizontal pressure gradient due to the varying density of Adriatic Deep Water (AdDW), which spreads into the deep layers of the northern Ionian Sea. In turn, the AdDW density fluctuates according to the circulation of the NIG through a feedback mechanism known as the bimodal oscillating system. We set up laboratory experiments with a two-layer ambient fluid in a circular rotating tank, where densities of 1000 and 1015 kg minline-formula−3 characterize the upper and lower layers, respectively. From the potential vorticity evolution during the dense-water outflow from a marginal sea, we analyze the response of the open-sea circulation to the along-slope dense-water flow. In addition, we show some features of the cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies that form in the upper layer over the slope area. We illustrate the outcome of the experiments of varying density and varying discharge rates associated with dense-water injection. When the density is high (1020 kg minline-formula−3) and the discharge is large, the kinetic energy of the mean flow is stronger than the eddy kinetic energy. Conversely, when the density is lower (1010 kg minline-formula−3) and the discharge is reduced, vortices are more energetic than the mean flow – that is, the eddy kinetic energy is larger than the kinetic energy of the mean flow. In general, over the slope, following the onset of dense-water injection, the cyclonic vorticity associated with current shear develops in the upper layer. The vorticity behaves in a two-layer fashion, thereby becoming anticyclonic in the lower layer of the slope area. Concurrently, over the deep flat-bottom portion of the basin, a large-scale anticyclonic gyre forms in the upper layer extending partly toward a sloping rim. The density record shows the rise of the pycnocline due to the dense-water sinking toward the flat-bottom portion of the tank. We show that the rate of increase in the anticyclonic potential vorticity is proportional to the rate of the rise of the interface, namely to the rate of decrease in the upper-layer thickness (i.e., the upper-layer squeezing). The comparison of laboratory experiments with the Ionian Sea is made for a situation when the sudden switch from cyclonic to anticyclonic basin-wide circulation took place following extremely dense Adriatic water overflow after the harsh winter in 2012. We show how similar the temporal evolution and the vertical structure are in both laboratory and oceanic conditions. The demonstrated similarity further supports the assertion that the wind-stress curl over the Ionian Sea is not ofpage976 paramount importance in generating basin-wide circulation inversions compared with the internal forcing.

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Gačić, Miroslav / Ursella, Laura / Kovačević, Vedrana / et al: Impact of dense-water flow over a sloping bottom on open-sea circulation: laboratory experiments and an Ionian Sea (Mediterranean) example. 2021. Copernicus Publications.

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