Submesoscale ocean dynamics

A frontal eddy, approximately 30 km across, off the southeast coast of Australia. The eddy is visible at the top of the image as a region of enhanced chlorophyll concentration and submesoscale filaments.

FROM PLANET-SCALE TO PLANKTON-SCALE, submesoscale processes play a critical role in the ocean. This dynamical regime, which incorporates ocean processes on lengthscales of 1-30 km, now lies at the forefront of oceanographic research. Submesoscale fronts act as “lungs” through which heat, carbon, and oxygen are exchanged between the atmosphere and the deep ocean. Kilometer-scale filaments strongly enhance the lateral dispersion of nutrients, fish larvae, and ocean-borne pollutants. And submesoscale vortices modulate the ocean food chain from phytoplankton to top predators.

Using ultra-high-resolution observations from land, sea, and space, we are now beginning to unravel the submesoscale tangle of filaments, fronts and vortices and understand their role in mixing and dispersion in the ocean.

M. Roughan, S.R. Keating, A. Schaeffer, P. Cetina Heredia, D. Griffin, R. Robertson,
C. Rocha, I.M. Suthers (2017).
A tale of two eddies: The bio-physical characteristics of two contrasting cyclonic eddies in the East Australian Current.
Accepted to J. Geophys. Res. doi 10.1002/2016JC012241 link

A. Mantovanelli, S.R. Keating, L.R. Wyatt, M. Roughan and A. Schaeffer (submitted)
Eulerian and Lagrangian characterization of two counter-rotating submesoscale eddies in a western boundary current.