Impacts of planetary ocean waves on Antarctic and North Atlantic climate

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Embargoed until 2024-01-28
Copyright: Webb, David
Planetary waves play a role in a large variety of oceanic and climate dynamics. In particular, Kelvin waves can provide rapid teleconnections from large-scale climate and weather events to remote regions of the globe. Kelvin waves may be partially responsible for linking climatic changes in Southern Ocean winds to increases in subsurface warming around Antarctica that can lead to glacial ice-melt and increases in global sea level rise. Kelvin waves may also link changes in Southern Ocean winds to increases in North Atlantic Deep Water (NADW) formation and an enhancement of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC), which is responsible for circulating a vast amount of the ocean’s heat and nutrient content. However, the exact role of Kelvin waves in these processes is unclear. This thesis aims to further clarify the role that Kelvin waves play in these high-latitude climate processes. First, we use a suite of idealized models in order to better understand the dynamics of barotropic Kelvin waves around Antarctica. We find that super-inertial (high frequency) barotropic Kelvin waves are nearly completely scattered away from the Antarctic coastline due to a combination of coastal geometry and bathymetry. Sub-inertial (low frequency) barotropic Kelvin waves are mostly scattered away from the Antarctic coastline due to bathymetry, however a significant amount of barotropic Kelvin wave energy remains at the Antarctic coastline after one circumnavigation of the continent, enabling a gradual build-up of energy along the coast and the ability to sustain a barotropic Kelvin wave signal around Antarctica over time. Secondly, we perform a diagnostic study using theory and a range of varying resolution model simulations to quantify the amount of subsurface warming along the West Antarctic Peninsula caused by barotropic Kelvin waves via an induced bottom Ekman flow that advects warm Circumpolar Deep Water onto the Antarctic continental shelf. We find that barotropic Kelvin waves can account for a substantial amount of warming within one year, depending on the background temperature gradients and thickness of the bottom Ekman layer. Lastly, we explore the role of Kelvin waves in linking Southern Ocean wind-stress to NADW formation and the AMOC by analysing ensemble simulations from a fully-coupled ocean-sea-ice model at 1/4 degree horizontal resolution (50 vertical levels). We find first mode baroclinic Kelvin waves to propagate along a global coastal and equatorial waveguide from the Southern Ocean forcing region to the North Atlantic, where downwelling waves initiate an enhancement of the AMOC by making surface waters denser.
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PhD Doctorate
UNSW Faculty