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Bottom-trapped currents as statistical equilibrium states above topographic anomalies

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  17 April 2012

A. Venaille*
Laboratoire de Physique, ENS-Lyon, 46 Allée d’Italie, 69007 Lyon, France
Email address for correspondence:


Oceanic geostrophic turbulence is mostly forced at the surface, yet strong bottom-trapped flows are commonly observed along topographic anomalies. Here we consider the case of a freely evolving, initially surface-intensified velocity field above a topographic bump, and show that the self-organization into a bottom-trapped current can result from its turbulent dynamics. Using equilibrium statistical mechanics, we explain this phenomenon as the most probable outcome of turbulent stirring. We compute explicitly a class of solutions characterized by a linear relation between potential vorticity and streamfunction, and predict when the bottom intensification is expected. Using direct numerical simulations, we provide an illustration of this phenomenon that agrees qualitatively with theory, although the ergodicity hypothesis is not strictly fulfilled.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2012

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