• Open Access

Energetics of a global ocean circulation model compared to observations

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Abstract

[1] The majority of the eddy kinetic energy (EKE) in the ocean is found on scales of 50 km to 500 km, encompassed by mesoscale eddies and the meanders and rings of the boundary currents. Mesoscale eddies play a critical role in the dynamics of the ocean circulation with instabilities of the strong mean currents generating eddies in the upper ocean. Interactions between eddies transfer energy from the upper ocean to the deep ocean where eddies interact with bottom topography to generate abyssal mean flows and eddies transfer momentum back to the mean currents. The kinetic energy in a global Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Circulation Model (HYCOM) is compared with long-term observations from surface drifters, geostrophic currents from satellite altimetry, subsurface floats and deep current meter moorings. HYCOM, configured at 1/12.5° (∼9 km, typical of the present generation of high resolution models), is deficient in EKE in both the upper and abyssal ocean (depths greater than 3000 m) by ∼21% and ∼24% respectively compared to surface drifting buoys and deep current meters. Increasing the model resolution to 1/25° (∼4.4 km) or injecting mesoscale eddies through the assimilation of surface observations in a 1/12.5° model increases the surface and the abyssal EKE to levels consistent with the observations. In these models, the surface (abyssal) EKE is increased by 23% (51%) and 15% (46%) for the higher resolution or data-assimilative models, respectively, compared to the 1/12.5° non-assimilative model. While data assimilation increases the EKE in both the upper and abyssal ocean, the kinetic energy of the mean flow in the upper ocean is decreased in the data-assimilative hindcast.

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