On the importance of resolving the western boundary layer in wind-driven ocean general circulation models Academic Article uri icon


  • The western boundary layer (WBL) plays a fundamental role in basin-scale wind-driven ocean circulations. In idealized ocean models with flat bottom topography, this layer is required not only to balance the interior Sverdrup transport to close the gyre circulation, but also to dissipate the vorticity imposed by the wind-stress curl. The width of the WBL in Munk-type models is estimated to be delta(M) (A(H)/beta)(1/3), where A(H) and beta are horizontal eddy viscosity and the meridional derivative of the Coriolis parameter respectively. For commonly used values of A(H), the boundary-layer width delta(M) ranges from 30 to less than 200 km in the mid-latitude ocean. This scale is often poorly resolved in large-scale climate models. This paper intends to demonstrate some consequences when the western boundary layer is not adequately resolved. It is found that coarse resolution models reach equilibrium states by distorting some important dynamics in order to dissipate wind-imposed vorticity. In three-dimensional models, for instance, very strong spurious upwelling and downwelling can occur along the WBL. In models of two-dimensional flow, however, spurious recirculations may develop near the boundary. These false features can be removed when the boundary layer is better resolved. We propose a method in which a spatially varying A(H) is used to broaden the WBL without affecting mixing in the interior. The method improves the model results considerably. (C) 2003 Elsevier Science Ltd. All rights reserved.

publication date

  • January 2003