Oceanic General Circulation: Wave and Advection Dynamics

  • Peter B. Rhines
Part of the NATO ASI Series book series (volume 11)


This is a discussion of the oceanic general circulation, both wind-driven and buoyancy driven. We start with basic ideas about fluids ‘stiffened’ by planetary rotation and Sverdrup-Rossby dynamics, describe the ‘non-Doppler’ effect that allows one to solve a large class of wind-driven circulations, and ‘arrested wave’ theory that leads to many linear models of water-mass development and circulation. This borders on Rossby hydraulics’ in which advection and wave propagation effects are fully competitive. Modern debate over potential vorticity dynamics and ‘warm’ and ‘cold’ subduction layers into the thermocline are discussed. The production of vertical stratification that is the essence of subduction can occur from warming-induced restratification in spring or from cooling and dynamical restratification (conversion of horizontal-density gradient into vertical-density gradient). Wind-driven circulation involves active potential vorticity advection and stirring, and the ratio of advection to mesoscale-eddy diffusion in the gyres (the Peclet number) is of order 3 to 5, which is not large. In addition to the global overturning modes seen in global circulation models, the deep circulation involves smaller, faster, and more quickly responding branches of circulation which occur with topographic basins and ridges, and with fast boundary-current physics. These may be eddy forced, and shaped by topography. The capacity of basin topography to reverse the Stommel-Arons circulation (by its ‘hypsometry’) is described. Some of the ‘missing physics’ that challenges numerical ocean models is discussed, and some promotion of the value of laboratory experiments given.


Mixed Layer Rossby Wave Potential Vorticity Mesoscale Eddy Thermohaline Circulation 
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© Springer-Verlag Berlin Heidelberg 1993

Authors and Affiliations

  • Peter B. Rhines
    • 1
  1. 1.School of OceanographyUniversity of WashingtonUSA

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