A modeling study of the role that bottom topography plays in Gulf Stream dynamics and in influencing the tilt of mean sea level along the US East Coast
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Two aspects of the interactions between the Gulf Stream (GS) and the bottom topography are investigated: 1. the spatial variations associated with the north-south tilt of mean sea level along the US East Coast and 2. the high-frequency temporal variations of coastal sea level (CSL) that are related to Gulf Stream dynamics. A regional ocean circulation model is used to assess the role of topography; this is done by conducting numerical simulations of the GS with two different topographies–one case with a realistic topography and another case with an idealized smooth topography that neglects the details of the coastline and the very deep ocean. High-frequency oscillations (with a 5-day period) in the zonal wind and in the GS transport are imposed on the model; the source of the GS variability is either the Florida Current (FC) in the south or the Slope Current (SC) in the north. The results demonstrate that the abrupt change of topography at Cape Hatteras, near the point where the GS separates from the coast, amplifies the northward downward mean sea level tilt along the coast there. The results suggest that idealized or coarse resolution models that do not resolve the details of the coastline may underestimate the difference between the higher mean sea level in the South Atlantic Bight (SAB) and the lower mean sea level in the Mid-Atlantic Bight (MAB). Imposed variations in the model’s GS transport can generate coherent sea level variability along the coast, similar to the observations. However, when the bottom topography in the model is modified (or not well resolved), the shape of the coastline and the continental shelf influence the propagation of coastal-trapped waves and impact the CSL variability. The results can explain the different characteristics of sea level variability in the SAB and in the MAB and help understand unexpected water level anomalies and flooding related to remote influence of the GS.
KeywordsGulf stream Florida Current Sea level Climate change Numerical model Coastal waves
Old Dominion University’s Climate Change and Sea Level Rise Initiative (CCSLRI) provided partial support for this study, and the Center for Coastal Physical Oceanography (CCPO) provided the computational facilities. Reviewers are thanked for providing many helpful suggestions.
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