Wind-forced symmetric instability at a transient mid-ocean front

Yu, X. and Naveira Garabato, A. C. and Martin, A. P. and Evans, D. G. and Su, Z.

abstract: Mooring and glider observations and a high-resolution satellite sea surface temperature image reveal features of a transient submesoscale front in a typical mid-ocean region of the Northeast Atlantic. Analysis of the observations suggests that the front is forced by downfront winds and undergoes symmetric instability, resulting in elevated upper-ocean kinetic energy, restratification, and turbulent dissipation. The instability is triggered as downfront winds act on weak upper-ocean vertical stratification and strong lateral stratification produced by mesoscale frontogenesis. The instability’s estimated rate of kinetic energy extraction from the front accounts for the difference between the measured rate of turbulent dissipation and the predicted contribution from one-dimensional scalings of buoyancy- and wind-driven turbulence, indicating that the instability underpins the enhanced dissipation. These results provide direct evidence of the occurrence of symmetric instability in a quiescent open-ocean environment and highlight the need to represent the instability’s restratification and dissipative effects in climate-scale ocean models.

  author = {Yu, X. and Naveira~Garabato, A. C. and Martin, A. P. and Evans, D. G. and Su, Z.},
  year = {2019},
  doi = {10.1029/2019GL084309},
  title = {Wind-forced symmetric instability at a transient mid-ocean front},
  journal = {Geophys. Res. Lett.},
  volume = {46},
  number = {20},
  pages = {11281--11291}