National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2018

Frontogenesis in the Agulhas Return Current region simulated by a high-resolution CGCM

Ohishi, S., T. Tozuka, and M.F. Cronin

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 47(11), 2691–2710, doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-17-0038.1 (2017)

Detailed mechanisms for frontogenesis/frontolysis of the sea surface temperature (SST) front in the Agulhas Return Current (ARC) region are investigated using outputs from a high-resolution coupled general circulation model. The SST front is maintained throughout the year through an approximate balance between frontolysis by surface heat flux and frontogenesis by horizontal advection. Although a southward (northward) cross-isotherm flow on the northern (southern) side of the front is weaker than a strong eastward along-isotherm current in the frontal region, this cross-isotherm confluent flow advects warmer (cooler) temperature toward the SST front north (south) of the front and acts as the dominant frontogenesis mechanism. In addition, stronger (weaker) frontogenesis in austral summer (winter) is attributed to the stronger (weaker) cross-isotherm confluence, which may be linked to seasonal variations of the Agulhas Current, ARC, and Antarctic Circumpolar Current. On the other hand, the contribution from entrainment is relatively small, because frontolysis by larger (smaller) entrainment velocity on the northern (southern) side opposes frontogenesis by less (more) effective cooling associated with a thicker (thinner) mixed layer and smaller (larger) temperature difference between the mixed layer and entrained water in the northern (southern) region. To gain further insight into the time-mean cross-isotherm confluent flow in the frontal region, the vorticity balance is examined. It is shown that anticyclonic (cyclonic) vorticity advection north (south) of the front by the mean cross-isotherm confluence is in balance with the sum of cyclonic (anticyclonic) vorticity advection by the mean along-isotherm flow and cross-isotherm eddy–mean interaction.

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