Gulf of Mexico Loop Current path variability

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Loop Current, LC, path variability exhibits a continuum of spatial and temporal scales, all are called meanders in this work. They arise from a variety of processes, including short and long waves, frontal eddies with or without closed cores and developing baroclinic instability. They have been extensively studied with satellite sea surface temperature SST, and height, SSH. Yet, these systems provide an incomplete view into LC meandering: SST measurements are hampered by cloud coverage and low thermal contrast in summer months and SSH measurements by altimeter temporal and spatial resolution. In an effort to resolve LC meander temporal and spatial scales, they are investigated using a mesoscale resolving in situ array deployed in the Gulf of Mexico. The array, which consisted of twenty-five inverted echo sounders with pressure gauges, PIES, and current meter moorings, was deployed April 2009 and recovered in October–November 2011. The broad extent of the array, nominally 89° W to 85° W, 25° N to 27° N, enabled quantitative mapping of the regional circulation. LC meander properties are characterized as a function of spatial distribution of energy, frequency, wavenumber, and phase speed. Dispersion characteristics and meander scales are comparable to those found in the Gulf Stream. Phase speeds increase with frequency and range from 8 to 50 km d−1. Wavelengths associated with each band are as follows: 460 km for the 100 to 40 d band, 350 km for the 40 to 20 d band, 270 km for the 20 to 10 d band and 230 km for the 10 to 3 d band. The strongest variability is in the 100 to 40 d band. Spatially the 100 to 40 d variability is concentrated to east of the Mississippi Fan, growing and propagating downstream along the eastern portion of the LC. Meanders between 40 and 20 d propagate along the full encompassed length of the LC. Their temporal amplitudes peak at the time of LC eddy detachment and separation. Meanders with shorter periods than 20 d do not always propagate along the full encompassed length of the LC, perhaps due to the location of the LC.

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Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans