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Free Content Three-dimensional stirring of thermohaline fronts

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This study investigates the stirring of the thermohaline anomalies in a fully turbulent quasigeostrophic stratified flow. Temperature and salinity fields are permanently forced at large scales and are related to density by a linear equation of state. We show, using some inherent properties of quasi-geostrophic turbulence, that the 3-D ageostrophic circulation is the key dynamical characteristic that governs the strength and the spatial distribution of small-scale thermohaline fronts that are strongly density compensated. The numerical simulations well illustrate the formation by the mesoscale eddy field of sharp thermohaline fronts that are mainly located in the saddle regions and around the eddy cores and have a weak signature on the density field. One important aspect revealed by the numerical results is that the thermohaline anomalies experience not only a direct horizontal cascade but also a significant vertical cascade. One consequence of this 3-D cascade is that the ultimate mixing of the thermohaline anomalies will not be necessarily maximum at the depth where the large-scale temperature and salinity anomalies are maximum. Some analytical arguments allow us to identify some of the mechanisms that drive this 3-D cascade.

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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: 1998-05-01

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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