Intrinsic and Forced Interannual Variability of the Gulf of Alaska Mesoscale Circulation

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Combes, Vincent Emmanuel
Di Lorenzo, Emanuele
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The response of the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) circulation to large-scale North Pacific climate variability is explored using three high resolution (15 km) regional ocean model ensembles over the period 1950-2004. On interannual and decadal timescales the mean circulation is strongly modulated by changes in the large scale climate forcing associated with PDO and ENSO. Intensification of the model gyre scale circulation occurs after the 1976-1977 climate shift, as well as during 1965-1970 and 1993-1995. From the model dynamical budgets we find that when the GOA experiences stronger southeasterly winds, typical during the positive phase of the PDO and ENSO, there is net large-scale Ekman convergence in the central and eastern coastal boundary. The geostrophic adjustment to higher sea surface height (SSH) and lower isopycnals lead to stronger cyclonic gyre scale circulation. The opposite situation occurs during stronger northwesterly winds (negative phase of the PDO). Along the eastern basin, interannual changes in the surface winds also modulate the seasonal development of high amplitude anticyclonic eddies (e.g. Hada and Sitka eddies). Large interannual eddy events during winter-spring, are phase-locked with the seasonal cycle. The initial eddy dynamics are consistent with a quasi-linear Rossby wave response to positive SSH anomalies forced by stronger downwelling favorable winds (e.g. southwesterly during El Nio). However, because of the fast growth rate of baroclinic instability and the geographical focusing associated with the coastal geometry, most of the perturbation energy in the Rossby wave is locally trapped until converted into large scale nonlinear coherent eddies. Coastally trapped waves of tropical origin may also contribute to positive SSH anomalies that lead to higher amplitude eddies. However, their presence does not appear essential. The model ensembles, which do not include the effects of equatorial coastally trapped waves, capture the large Hada and Sitka eddy events observed during 1982 and 1997 and explain most of the variance of tidal gauges along the GOA coast. In the western basin, interannual eddy variability located south of the Alaskan Stream is not correlated with large scale forcing and appears to be intrinsic. A comparison of the three model ensembles forced by NCEP winds and a multi-century-long integration forced only with the seasonal cycle, shows that the internal variability alone explains most of the eddy variance. The asymmetry between the eddy forced regime in the eastern basin, and the intrinsic regime in the western basin, has important implications for predicting the GOA response to climate change. Eastern boundary eddies transport important biogeochemical quantities such as iron, oxygen and chlorophyll-a into the gyre interior, therefore having potential upscale effects on the GOA high-nutrient-low-chlorophyll region.
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