Properties and evolution of a submesoscale cyclonic spiral
Abstract. The evolution of a submesoscale cyclonic spiral of 1 km in diameter is simulated with ROMS (Regional Ocean Modeling System) using 33.3 m horizontal resolution in a triple-nested configuration. The generation of the spiral starts from a dense filament that is rolled into a vortex and detaches from the filament. During spin-up, extreme values are attained by various quantities, that are organized in single-arm and multi-arm spirals. The spin-down starts when the cyclone separates from the filament. At the same time, the horizontal speed develops a dipole-like pattern and isotachs form closed contours around the vortex center. The amplitudes of most quantities decrease significantly, but the instantaneous vertical velocity w exhibits high-frequency oscillations and more pronounced extremes than during spin-up. The oscillations are due to vortex Rossby waves (VRWs), that circle the eddy counterclockwise and generate multi-arm spirals with alternating signs by means of azimuthal vorticity advection. Experiments with virtual surface drifters and isopycnal floats indicate downwelling everywhere near the surface. The downwelling is most intense in the center of the spiral at all depth levels, leading to a radial outflow in the thermocline and weak upwelling at the periphery. This overturning circulation is driven by convergent near-surface flow and associated subduction of isopycnals. While the downwelling in the center may support the export of particulate organic carbon from the mixed layer into the main thermocline, the upwelling at the periphery effectuates an upward isopycnal transport of nutrients, enhancing the growth of phytoplankton in the euphotic zone.
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