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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

A simulation of the global ocean circulation with resolved eddies


  • Albert J. Semtner Jr.,

  • Robert M. Chervin


A multilevel primitive-equation model has been constructed for the purpose of simulating ocean circulation on modern supercomputing architectures. The model is designed to take advantage of faster clock speeds, increased numbers of processors, and enlarged memories of machines expected to be available over the next decade. The model allows global eddy-resolving simulations to be conducted in support of the World Ocean Circulation Experiment. Furthermore, global ocean modeling is essential for proper representation of the full range of oceanic and climatic phenomena. The first such global eddy-resolving ocean calculation is reported here. A 20-year integration of a global ocean model with ½° grid spacing and 20 vertical levels has been carried out with realistic geometry and annual mean wind forcing. The temperature and salinity are constrained to Levitus gridded data above 25-m depth and below 710-m depth (on time scales of 1 month and 3 years, respectively), but the values in the main thermocline are unconstrained for the last decade of the calculation. The final years of the simulation allow the spontaneous formation of waves and eddies through the use of scale-selective viscosity and diffusion. A quasi-equilibrium state shows many realistic features of ocean circulation, including unstable separating western boundary currents, the known anomalous northward heat transport in the South Atlantic, and a global compensation for the abyssal spread of North Atlantic Deep Water via a long chain of thermocline mass transport from the tropical Pacific, through the Indonesian archipelago, across the Indian Ocean, and around the southern tip of Africa. This chain of thermocline transport is perhaps the most striking result from the model, and eddies and waves are evident along the entire 20,000-km path of the flow. The modeled Gulf Stream separates somewhat north of Cape Hatteras, produces warm- and cold-core rings, and maintains its integrity as a meadering thermal front as far east as the Mid-Atlantic Ridge. The Florida Current near the Yucatan peninsula sheds warm-core rings into the Gulf of Mexico. The East Australia Current produces warm rings which travel southward where the main current turns eastward. The Kuroshio and Oyashio currents are modeled as separate and distinct, each capable of producing warm and cold rings, but neither of them being distinguishable more than 1500 km offshore. A number of frontal regions in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current also exhibit spontaneous variability. Some specific areas of vigorous eddy activity have been identified in the South Atlantic by examining regional enlargements of the southwest Atlantic and of the southeast Atlantic over a simulated span of 225 days, using color raster animations of the volume transport stream function and of the temperature at 160-m depth. The Agulhas Current spawns mainly warm-core rings which enter the large-scale gyre circulation of the South Atlantic after rounding the tip of Africa and moving to the northwest. The Drake Passage has two thermal fronts, the northern of which is strongly unstable and generates ring pairs at about a 140-day period, whose net effect is to transport heat poleward. The confluence of the Brazil Current and the Malvinas (Falkland) Current forces each to turn abruptly eastward and exhibit ring formation near the continental shelf break, with unstable meandering farther downstream. It appears that each separated jet has a distinct core for generating unstable waves with periods of roughly 60 days. More quantitative results on global dynamics will be forthcoming as seasonally forced simulations, including ones with ⅓° × ⅖° grid spacing, are obtained and as the simulated variability and eddy transports are analyzed in a systematic fashion.

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