Surface Cooling, Winds, and Eddies over the Continental Shelf Academic Article uri icon


  • AbstractModels show that surface cooling over a sloping continental shelf should give rise to baroclinic instability and thus tend toward gravitationally stable density stratification. Less is known about how alongshore winds affect this process, so the role of surface momentum input is treated here by means of a sequence of idealized, primitive equation numerical model calculations. The effects of cooling rate, wind amplitude and direction, bottom slope, bottom friction, and rotation rate are all considered. All model runs lead to instability and an eddy field. While instability is not strongly affected by upwelling-favorable alongshore winds, wind-driven downwelling substantially reduces eddy kinetic energy, largely because the downwelling circulation plays a similar role to baroclinic instability by flattening isotherms and so reducing available potential energy. Not surprisingly, cross-shelf winds appear to have little effect. Analysis of the model runs leads to quantitative relations for the wind effect on eddy kinetic energy for the equilibrium density stratification (which increases as the cooling rate increases) and for eddy length scale.

publication date

  • April 2017