The generation of coastal undercurrents

J. H. Yoon, S. G.H. Philander

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19 Scopus citations


Equilibrium conditions in an f-plane ocean evolve as follows after the sudden onset of winds parallel to a coast. At first the flow is two-dimensional-spatial variations are confined to a plane perpendicular to the coast-and the salient features in the forcing region are acceleration of a coastal jet in the surface layers in the wind direction, and offshore Ekman drift that causes coastal upwelling. Kelvin waves excited at the edge of the forced region establish equilibrium conditions by creating an alongshore pressure gradient that balances the wind so that the acceleration stops. The vertical structure corresponding to each vertical mode differs from that of the wind-driven coastal jet so that the arrival of the barotropic Kelvin wave starts to accelerate a coastal undercurrent in a direction opposite to that of the wind. Subsequent baroclinic Kelvin waves modify the vertical structure of the coastal current so that the undercurrent in the subsurface layer is accelerated. In an inviscid model there is a singularity in the surface layers at the coast as t→∞ because the Kelvin modes with small offshore and vertical scales travel slowly and take a very long time to make their contribution to the establishment of equilibrium conditions. A modest amount of friction eliminates this problem. Nonlinearities are important in the heat equation and affect sea surface temperatures significantly but their effect on the momentum balance is secondary.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-224
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of the Oceanographical Society of Japan
Issue number4
StatePublished - Sep 1982

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • General Environmental Science
  • Soil Science
  • General Engineering
  • Earth-Surface Processes
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


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