National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Steady state ocean response to wind forcing in extratropical frontal regions

Cronin, M.F., and T. Tozuka

Scientific Reports, 6, 28842, doi: 10.1038/srep28842, Published online (2016)

In regions of strong sea surface temperature (SST) gradients, the surface “geostrophic” currents have a vertical shear aligned with the surface density front defined by the temperature. This surface geostrophic (“thermal wind”) shear can balance a portion of the surface wind stress, altering the classic Ekman response to wind forcing. Here we show that these frontal effects cannot be ignored in the Tropics or in strong frontal regions in the extratropics, such as found in coastal regions and in western boundary currents of all basins. Frontal effects also dominate the classic Ekman response in the regions of both hemispheres where Trade winds change to westerlies. Implications for vertical motion and global heat transport are discussed.

[See also Erratum,, updated on 1 August 2016.]

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