The Energetics of Centrifugal Instability

Thursday, 18 December 2014: 12:05 PM
William K Dewar1 and Yang Jiao1,2, (1)Florida State Univ, Tallahassee, FL, United States, (2)National Marine Enviornmental Forecasting Center, Beijing, China
A recent study has argued that the California Undercurrent, and poleward eastern boundary currents in general, generate mixing events through centrifugal instability (CI). Conditions favorable for CI are created by the strong horizontal shears developed in turbulent bottom layers of currents flowing in the direction of topographic waves. At points of abrupt topographic change, like promontories and capes, the coastal current separates from the boundary and injects gravitationally stable but dynamically unstable flow into the interior. The resulting finite amplitude development of the instability involves overturnings and diabatic mixing. The purpose of this study is to examine the energetics of CI in order to characterize it as has been done for other instabilities and develop a framework in which to estimate its regional and global impacts. We argue that CI is roughly twice as efficient at mixing as is Kelvin-Helmholtz instability, and that roughly 10% of the initial energy in a CUC-like current is lost to either local mixing or the generation of unbalanced flows. The latter probably leads to non-local mixing. Thus centrifugal instability is an effective process by which energy is lost from the balanced flow and spent in mixing neighboring water masses. We argue the importance of the mixing is regional in nature, but of less importance to the global budgets given its regional specificity.