The possible influence of curvature and rotation on ocean currents

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Abstract

Recent laboratory investigations have shown that rotation and (streamwise) curvature can have spectacular effects on momentum transport in turbulent shear flows. A simple model that takes account of these effects (based on an analogy with buoyant flows) utilises counterparts of the Richardson number Rg and the Monin-Oboukhov length. Estimates of Rg for meanders in ocean currents like the Gulf Stream show it to be of order 1 or more, while laboratory investigations reveal strong effects even at |Rg|∼0·1. These considerations lead to the conclusion that at a cyclonic bend in the Gulf Stream, a highly unstable flow in the outer half of the jet rides over a highly stable flow in the inner half. It is conjectured that the discrepancies noticed between observation and the various theories of Gulf Stream meanders, and such phenomena as the observed detachment of eddies from the Gulf Stream, may be due to the effects of curvature and rotation on turbulent transport.