Articles | Volume 8, issue 1
Ocean Sci., 8, 19–35, 2012
Ocean Sci., 8, 19–35, 2012

Research article 13 Jan 2012

Research article | 13 Jan 2012

The vertical structure of oceanic Rossby waves: a comparison of high-resolution model data to theoretical vertical structures

F. K. Hunt1, R. Tailleux2, and J. J.-M. Hirschi3 F. K. Hunt et al.
  • 1Ocean and Earth Science, National Oceanography Centre Southampton, University of Southampton, Southampton, UK
  • 2Department of Meteorology, University of Reading, Reading, UK
  • 3National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, UK

Abstract. Tests of the new Rossby wave theories that have been developed over the past decade to account for discrepancies between theoretical wave speeds and those observed by satellite altimeters have focused primarily on the surface signature of such waves. It appears, however, that the surface signature of the waves acts only as a rather weak constraint, and that information on the vertical structure of the waves is required to better discriminate between competing theories. Due to the lack of 3-D observations, this paper uses high-resolution model data to construct realistic vertical structures of Rossby waves and compares these to structures predicted by theory. The meridional velocity of a section at 24° S in the Atlantic Ocean is pre-processed using the Radon transform to select the dominant westward signal. Normalized profiles are then constructed using three complementary methods based respectively on: (1) averaging vertical profiles of velocity, (2) diagnosing the amplitude of the Radon transform of the westward propagating signal at different depths, and (3) EOF analysis. These profiles are compared to profiles calculated using four different Rossby wave theories: standard linear theory (SLT), SLT plus mean flow, SLT plus topographic effects, and theory including mean flow and topographic effects. Our results support the classical theoretical assumption that westward propagating signals have a well-defined vertical modal structure associated with a phase speed independent of depth, in contrast with the conclusions of a recent study using the same model but for different locations in the North Atlantic. The model structures are in general surface intensified, with a sign reversal at depth in some regions, notably occurring at shallower depths in the East Atlantic. SLT provides a good fit to the model structures in the top 300 m, but grossly overestimates the sign reversal at depth. The addition of mean flow slightly improves the latter issue, but is too surface intensified. SLT plus topography rectifies the overestimation of the sign reversal, but overestimates the amplitude of the structure for much of the layer above the sign reversal. Combining the effects of mean flow and topography provided the best fit for the mean model profiles, although small errors at the surface and mid-depths are carried over from the individual effects of mean flow and topography respectively. Across the section the best fitting theory varies between SLT plus topography and topography with mean flow, with, in general, SLT plus topography performing better in the east where the sign reversal is less pronounced. None of the theories could accurately reproduce the deeper sign reversals in the west. All theories performed badly at the boundaries. The generalization of this method to other latitudes, oceans, models and baroclinic modes would provide greater insight into the variability in the ocean, while better observational data would allow verification of the model findings.