An analysis of tropical instability waves in a numerical model of the Pacific Ocean. 2. Generation and energetics of the waves

S. Masina, Samuel Philander, A. B.G. Bush

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Abstract

The instability processes which generate unstable waves with characteristics similar to observed tropical instability waves in the Pacific Ocean are examined through a local energy analysis based on deviations from the time mean flow. Numerical experiments indicate that the waves develop preferentially in the eastern Pacific along the northern temperature front and have a westward phase speed and a structure with two peaks in amplitude: one located on the equator and the other a few degrees north of it. The energy analysis shows that the 'two-peak' structure of the eastern waves is explained by two different instability processes which occur at different latitudes. In the time mean sense the region north of the equator is baroclinically unstable, while barotropic instability prevails at the equator. The life cycle of the waves is revealed by the time evolution of the energetics. Baroclinic instability is the dominant triggering mechanism which induces growth of the waves along the northern temperature front. The eddy pressure fluxes radiate energy south of the equator where the meridional shear between the Equatorial Undercurrent and the South Equatorial Current becomes barotropically unstable. From the numerical simulations, there is evidence of a second unstable region in the central Pacific south of the equator where the instabilities have a lower phase speed. The energy analysis also shows that these waves grow from both barotropic and baroclinic conversions.

Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Volume104
Issue number12
StatePublished - Dec 15 1999

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geophysics
  • Forestry
  • Oceanography
  • Aquatic Science
  • Ecology
  • Water Science and Technology
  • Soil Science
  • Geochemistry and Petrology
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences (miscellaneous)
  • Palaeontology

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