Interaction of Ekman Layers and Islands Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract The circulation induced by the interaction of surface Ekman transport with an island is considered using both numerical models and linear theory. The basic response is similar to that found for the interaction of Ekman layers and an infinite boundary, namely downwelling (upwelling) in narrow boundary layers and deformation-scale baroclinic boundary layers with associated strong geostrophic flows. The presence of the island boundary, however, allows the pressure signal to propagate around the island so that the regions of upwelling and downwelling are dynamically connected. In the absence of stratification the island acts as an effective barrier to the Ekman transport. The presence of stratification supports baroclinic boundary currents that provide an advective pathway from one side of the island to the other. The resulting steady circulation is quite complex. Near the island, both geostrophic and ageostrophic velocity components are typically large. The density anomaly is maximum below the surface and, for positive wind stress, exhibits an anticyclonic phase rotation with depth (direction of Kelvin wave propagation) such that anomalously warm water can lie below regions of Ekman upwelling. The horizontal and vertical velocities exhibit similar phase changes with depth. The addition of a sloping bottom can act to shield the deep return flow from interacting with the island and providing mass transport into/out of the surface Ekman layer. In these cases, the required transport is provided by a pair of recirculation gyres that connect the narrow upwelling/downwelling boundary layers on the eastern and western sides of the island, thus directly connecting the Ekman transport across the island.

publication date

  • May 1, 2013