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From 2004 to 2006 an observational array of current- and pressure-recording inverted echo sounders (CPIES) were deployed as part of the Kuroshio Extension (KEx) System Study (KESS). KESS observed a transition from a weakly meandering (“stable”) to strongly meandering (“unstable”) state (Qiu and Chen). As the KEx made this transition, potential vorticity (PV) observed within the southern recirculation gyre (SRG) rapidly increased from January to July 2005. In this study, the authors diagnose eddy PV fluxes (EPVFs) in isentropic coordinates within the subtropical mode water (STMW) layer from the CPIES data to determine the role of mesoscale eddies in this rapid increase of PV.

The rapid increase in PV within the SRG coincided with enhanced cross-front EPVFs and eddy PV flux convergence upstream of a mean trough in the KEx path and adjacent to the SRG. The enhanced cross-front EPVFs were the result of the formation of a cold-core ring (CCR) and the interaction of the jet with a preexisting CCR. Eddy diffusivities are diagnosed for the unstable regime with values that range from 100 to 2000 m2 s−1. The high eddy diffusivities during the unstable regime reflect the nature of mesoscale CCR formation and CCR–jet interaction as efficient mechanisms for stirring and mixing high PV waters from the north side of the KEx into the low PV waters of the SRG where STMW resides. This mechanism for cross-frontal exchange can explain observed increases in the STMW PV in the SRG over the 16 months of KESS observations.