Hydrological and dynamical characterization of Meddies in the Azores region: A paradigm for baroclinic vortex dynamics


  • A. Tychensky,

  • X. Carton


The Structure des Echanges Mer-Atmosphere, Proprietes des Heterogeneites Oceaniques: Recherche Expérimentale (SEMAPHORE) oceanographic experiment surveyed a 500 × 500 km2 domain south of the Azores from June to November 1993 and collected hydrological data, float trajectories, and current meter recordings. This data exhibited three intrathermocline eddies of Mediterranean water (Meddies), two of them being repeatedly sampled. Their hydrological and dynamical properties are quantified here by an isopycnic analysis. For the three Meddies, intense temperature and salinity anomalies (up to 4°C and 1.1 practical salinity units (psu)) are observed extending vertically over up to 1000 m and centered around 1000 m. Horizontally, these anomalies spread out to radii of 50–60 km, while the maximum azimuthal velocities (30 cm s−1, as computed by geostrophy) lie only at 35–40 km from the central axis. These Meddies followed curved trajectories, with drift velocities up to 7.5 cm s−1, under the influence of the neighboring mesoscale features (cyclonic vortices or Azores Current meanders). The three-dimensional structure of potential vorticity in and around these features evidences their complex interactions. Northwest of the domain, a Meddy was coupled to a subsurface anticyclone, forming an “aligned” vortex. It later interacted with the Azores Current, creating a large-amplitude northward meander by vertical alignment of vorticity. In the southeastern part of the domain, another Meddy was vertically aligned with an anticyclonic meander of the Azores Current and horizontally coupled with a cyclone of large vertical extent. These two features, as well as a small warm and salty fragment in their vicinity, seem to result from the southward crossing of the Meddy under the Azores Current. These observations illustrate previous theoretical studies of baroclinic vortex dynamics.