Seasonality in Transition Scale from Balanced to Unbalanced Motions in the World Ocean
March 11,2018

The transition scale Lt from balanced geostrophic motions to unbalanced wave motions, including near-inertial flows, internal tides, and inertia-gravity wave continuum, is explored using the output from a global 1/48° horizontal resolution Massachusetts Institute of Technology general circulation model (MITgcm) simulation. Defined as the wavelength with equal balanced and unbalanced motion kinetic energy (KE) spectral density, Lt is detected to be geographically highly inhomogeneous: it falls below 40 km in the western boundary current and Antarctic Circumpolar Current regions, increases to 40–100 km in the interior subtropical and subpolar gyres, and exceeds, in general, 200 km in the tropical oceans. With the exception of the Pacific and Indian sectors of the Southern Ocean, the seasonal KE fluctuations of the surface balanced and unbalanced motions are out of phase because of the occurrence of mixed layer instability in winter and trapping of unbalanced motion KE in shallow mixed layer in summer. The combined effect of these seasonal changes renders Lt to be 20 km during winter in 80% of the Northern Hemisphere oceans between 25° and 45°N and all of the Southern Hemisphere oceans south of 25°S. The transition scale’s geographical and seasonal changes are highly relevant to the forthcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) mission. To improve the detection of balanced submesoscale signals from SWOT, especially in the tropical oceans, efforts to remove stationary internal tidal signals are called for.

Figure.1 Distribution of the transition scale Lt indicating the dominance from balanced to unbalanced motions. Areas with Lt . 500 km are blanked out. White contours denote the 3000-m water depth.


Qiu Bo, Chen Shuiming, Klein Patrice, Wang Jinbo, Torres Hector, Fu Lee-Lueng, Menemenlis Dimitris Seasonality in Transition Scale from Balanced to Unbalanced Motions in the World Ocean. Journal of Physical Oceanography IN PRESS. Publisher's official version : , Open Access version :

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