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Ocean Dynamics








Much attention has been given in recent years to observations and models that show that variations in the transport of the Atlantic Meridional Overturning Circulation (AMOC) and in the Gulf Stream (GS) can contribute to interannual, decadal, and multi-decadal variations in coastal sea level (CSL) along the US East Coast. However, less is known about the impact of short-term (time scales of days to weeks) fluctuations in the GS and their impact on CSL anomalies. Some observations suggest that these anomalies can cause unpredictable minor tidal flooding in low-lying areas when the GS suddenly weakens. Can these short-term CSL variations be attributed to changes in the transport of the GS? An idealized numerical model of the GS has been set up to test this proposition. The regional model uses a 1/12° grid with a simplified coastline to eliminate impacts from estuaries and small-scale coastal features and thus isolate the GS impact. The GS in the model is driven by inflows/outflows, representing the Florida Current (FC), the Slope Current (SC), and the Sargasso Sea (SS) flows. Forcing the model with an oscillatory FC transport with a period of 2, 5, and 10 days produced coherent CSL variations from Florida to the Gulf of Maine with similar periods. However, when imposing variations in the transports of the SC or the SS, they induce CSL variations only north of Cape Hatteras. The suggested mechanism is that variations in GS transport produce variations in sea level gradient across the entire GS length and this large-scale signal is then transmitted into the shelf by the generation of coastal-trapped waves (CTW). In this idealized model, the CSL variations induced by variations of ∼10 Sv in the transport of the GS are found to resemble CSL variations induced by ∼5ms−1 zonal wind fluctuations, though the mechanisms of wind-driven and GS-driven sea level are quite different. Better understanding of the relation between variations in offshore currents and CSL will help to improve the prediction of both short-term water level anomalies that cause flooding, as well as spatial variations in long-term sea level variability and coastal sea level rise.

Original Publication Citation

Ezer, T. (2016). Can the Gulf Stream induce coherent short-term fluctuations in sea level along the US East Coast? A modeling study. Ocean Dynamics, 66(2), 207-220. doi: 10.1007/s10236-016-0928-0




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