Dynamical Evaluation of Ocean Models Using the Gulf Stream as an Example

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Book Chapter

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Marine Science


Ocean Science and Engineering


The Gulf Stream is the focus of an effort aimed at dynamical understanding and evaluation of current systems simulated by eddy-resolving Ocean General Circulation Models (OGCMs), including examples with and without data assimilation and results from four OGCMs (HYCOM, MICOM, NEMO, and POP), the first two including Lagrangian isopycnal coordinates in the vertical and the last two using fixed depths. The Gulf Stream has been challenging to simulate and understand. While different non-assimilative models have at times simulated a realistic Gulf Stream pathway, the simulations are very sensitive to small changes, such as subgrid-scale parameterizations and parameter values. Thus it is difficult to obtain consistent results and serious flaws are often simulated upstream and downstream of Gulf Stream separation from the coast at Cape Hatteras. In realistic simulations, steering by a key abyssal current and a Gulf Stream feedback mechanism constrain the latitude of the Gulf Stream near 68.5°W. Additionally, the Gulf Stream follows a constant absolute vorticity (CAV) trajectory from Cape Hatteras to ~70°W, but without the latitudinal constraint near 68.5°W, the pathway typically develops a northern or southern bias. A shallow bias in the southward abyssal flow of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) creates a serious problem in many simulations because it results in abyssal currents along isobaths too shallow to feed into the key abyssal current or other abyssal currents that provide a similar pathway constraint. Pathways with a southern bias are driven by a combination of abyssal currents crossing under the Gulf Stream near the separation point and the increased opportunity for strong flow instabilities along the more southern route. The associated eddy-driven mean abyssal currents constrain the mean pathway to the east. Due to sloping topography, flow instabilities are inhibited along the more northern routes west of ~69°W, especially for pathways with a northern bias. The northern bias occurs when the abyssal current steering constraint needed for a realistic pathway is missing or too weak and the simulation succumbs to the demands of linear dynamics for an overshoot pathway. Both the wind forcing and the upper ocean branch of the AMOC contribute to those demands. Simulations with a northern pathway bias were all forced by a wind product particularly conducive to that result and they have a strong or typical AMOC transport with a shallow bias in the southward flow. Simulations forced by the same wind product (or other wind products) that have a weak AMOC with a shallow bias in the southward limb exhibit Gulf Stream pathways with a southern bias. Data assimilation has a very positive impact on the model dynamics by increasing the strength of a previously weak AMOC and by increasing the depth range of the deep southward branch. The increased depth range of the southward branch generates more realistic abyssal currents along the continental slope. This result in combination with vortex stretching and compression generated by the data-assimilative approximation to meanders in the Gulf Stream and related eddies in the upper ocean yield a model response that simulates the Gulf Stream-relevant abyssal current features seen in historical in situ observations, including the key abyssal current near 68.5°W, a current not observed in the assimilated data set or corresponding simulations without data assimilation. In addition, the model maintains these abyssal currents in a mean of 48 14-day forecasts, but does not maintain the strength of the Gulf Stream east of the western boundary.

Publication Title

Operational Oceanography in the 21st Century

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