Articles | Volume 11, issue 4
Research article
31 Aug 2015
Research article |  | 31 Aug 2015

Impact of currents on surface flux computations and their feedback on dynamics at regional scales

A. Olita, I. Iermano, L. Fazioli, A. Ribotti, C. Tedesco, F. Pessini, and R. Sorgente

Abstract. A twin numerical experiment was conducted in the seas around the island of Sardinia (Western Mediterranean) to assess the impact, at regional and coastal scales, of the use of relative winds (i.e., taking into account ocean surface currents) in the computation of heat and momentum fluxes through standard (Fairall et al., 2003) bulk formulas. The Regional Ocean Modelling System (ROMS) was implemented at 3 km resolution in order to well resolve mesoscale processes, which are known to have a large influence in the dynamics of the area. Small changes (few percent points) in terms of spatially averaged fluxes correspond to quite large differences of such quantities (about 15 %) in spatial terms and in terms of kinetics (more than 20 %). As a consequence, wind power input P is also reduced by ~ 14 % on average. Quantitative validation with satellite SST suggests that such a modification of the fluxes improves the model solution especially in the western side of the domain, where mesoscale activity (as suggested by eddy kinetic energy) is stronger. Surface currents change both in their stable and fluctuating part. In particular, the path and intensity of the Algerian Current and of the Western Sardinia Current (WSC) are impacted by the modification in fluxes. Both total and eddy kinetic energies of the surface current field are reduced in the experiment where fluxes took into account the surface currents. The main dynamical correction is observed in the SW area, where the different location and strength of the eddies influence the path and intensity of the WSC. Our results suggest that, even at local scales and in temperate regions, it would be preferable to take into account such a contribution in flux computations. The modification of the original code, substantially cost-less in terms of numerical computation, improves the model response in terms of surface fluxes (SST validated) and it also likely improves the dynamics as suggested by qualitative comparison with satellite data.

Short summary
The paper studies the impact of the use of relative winds (i.e., winds minus ocean currents) to compute heat and momentum fluxes at sea surface. This was done in an area interested by mesoscale eddies and a local boundary current. Impact is relevant both for heat and momentum fluxes. Major differences can be observed in areas with large mesoscale activity. Results suggest that surface currents component in fluxes computation should not be neglected even at such scales and latitudes.