National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2000

Wind-forced reversing jets in the western equatorial Pacific

Cronin, M.F., M.J. McPhaden, and R.H. Weisberg

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 30(4), 657–676, doi: 10.1175/1520-0485(2000)030<0657:WFRJIT>2.0.CO;2 (2000)

Upper-ocean zonal currents in the western equatorial Pacific are remarkably variable, changing direction both with time and depth. As a part of the Tropical Ocean and Global Atmosphere Coupled Ocean-Atmosphere Response Experiment, an enhanced monitoring array of moorings measured the upper-ocean velocity, temperature, salinity, and surface meteorological conditions in the western equatorial Pacific for two years (March 1992-April 1994). Data from this array are used to evaluate the zonal momentum balance. Although nonlinear terms (zonal, meridional, and vertical advection) were at times large, reversing jets were primarily due to an interplay between wind forcing and compensating pressure gradients. In the weakly stratified surface layer, the flow is to a large extent directly forced by local winds. Eastward acceleration associated with westerly wind bursts and westward accelerations associated with easterly trades lead to frequent reversals in the surface-layer flow. However, pressure gradients set up by the wind bursts partially compensate the local wind forcing in the surface layer. Below the surface layer, these pressure gradients tend to accelerate the upper-thermocline flow in a direction opposing the local winds. Consequently, during westerly wind bursts, a reversing jet structure can develop, with a surface eastward current overlying a westward intermediate layer flow, overlaying the eastward Equatorial Undercurrent.

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