Ocean Scale Interactions from Space

Type Article
Date 2019-06
Language English
Author(s) Klein Patrice1, 2, 3, Lapeyre Guillaume4, Siegelman Lia1, 2, 5, Qiu Bo6, Fu Lee‐lueng1, Torres Hector1, Su Zhan2, Menemenlis Dimitris1, Le Gentil Sylvie7
Affiliation(s) 1 : Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA), California Institute of Technology Pasadena ,USA
2 : California Institute of Technology Pasadena ,USA
3 : Lops‐Ifremer/CNRS, FRANCE
6 : University of Hawaii USA
Source Earth and Space Science (2333-5084) (American Geophysical Union (AGU)), 2019-06 , Vol. 6 , N. 5 , P. 795-817
DOI 10.1029/2018EA000492
Note This article also appears in: Nonlinear Systems in Geophysics: Past Accomplishments and Future Challenges

Satellite observations of the last two decades have led to a major breakthrough emphasizing the existence of a strongly energetic mesoscale turbulent eddy field in all the oceans. This ocean mesoscale turbulence (OMT) is characterized by cyclonic and anticyclonic eddies (with a 100‐‐300 km size and depth scales of ~500‐‐1000 m) that capture approximatively 80% of the total kinetic energy and is now known to significantly impact the large‐scale ocean circulation, the ocean's carbon storage, the air‐sea interactions and therefore the Earth climate as a whole. However, OMT revealed by satellite observations has properties that differ from those related to classical geostrophic turbulence theories. In the last decade, a large number of theoretical and numerical studies has pointed to submesoscale surface fronts (1‐‐50 km, not resolved by satellite altimeters and not fully taken into account by geostrophic turbulence theories) as the key suspect explaining these discrepancies. Submesoscale surface fronts have been shown to impact mesoscale eddies and the large‐scale ocean circulation in counter‐intuitive ways, leading in particular to up‐gradient fluxes. The ocean engine is now known to involve energetic scale interactions, over a much broader range of scales than expected one decade ago, from 1 km to 5000 km. New space observations with higher spatial resolution are however needed to validate and improve these recent theoretical and numerical results.

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