Modification of surface winds near ocean fronts: Effects of Gulf Stream rings on scatterometer (QuikSCAT, NSCAT) wind observations

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Modifications to surface winds by currents and sea surface temperature (SST) gradients near frontal boundaries of Gulf Stream rings are analyzed using satellite SST and scatterometer (NASA's Quick Scatterometer (QuikSCAT), NASA scatterometer (NSCAT)) wind observations. A component of scatterometer wind approximately equal and opposite to the surface current vector is observed and attributed to the fact that scatterometers detect relative motion of water and air. Warm-core ring (WCR) SSTs act to destabilize the marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL), increasing surface wind magnitude by 10-15% and decreasing veering angle by 5-15° relative to large-scale mean winds. Cold-core ring (CCR) SSTs cause impacts of similar magnitude and opposite sense. Magnitudes and directions of modifications are accounted for by MABL dynamics of a nonlinear planetary boundary layer model forced by air-sea temperature differences. Wind modifications occur within tens of kilometers of SST fronts, implying a wind response timescale of order 1 hour. By contrast, uniformity of modified winds across the larger area within rings suggests the response time for the MABL to return to equilibrium downstream from a front exceeds 10 hours. Over WCRs, strong divergence (convergence) occurs on the upwind (downwind) side; curl is strongly negative (positive) to the right (left) side facing downwind. Opposite patterns are generally seen over CCRs. Divergence (curl) peaks where winds blow perpendicular (parallel) to SST fronts. SST image analysis indicates enhanced cloudiness occurs with downwind convergence over WCRs. Wind stress curl due to ring modifications causes dipolar Ekman pumping sufficient to influence ring translation and decay processes. Copyright 2006 by the American Geophysical Union.

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Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans