Planetary wave response to surface forcing and to instability in the presence of mean flow and topography

Peter D. Killworth and Jeffrey R. Blundell

National Oceanography Centre, Southampton, Empress Dock, Southampton SO14 3ZH, U.K.


The WKBJ response of an ocean with slowly-varying mean flow, stratification and topography to two sources of disturbance is examined. The first is surface forcing (Ekman pumping or buoyancy forcing). For typical amplitudes of random forcing, while much of the ocean response is small (surface elevations less than 1 mm), there are sufficient near-resonances (or pseudoresonances involving a critical layer) to produce elevations of 1 cm or more in much of the ocean. The second source is baroclinic instability. The fastest linear growth rate, as well as those for specific wavelengths, is computed globally. Almost all the ocean is baroclinically unstable, and the most unstable waves are found to possess a small wavelength (often less than 10 km) with a disturbance concentrated near-surface. e-folding times of order 20 days are frequently found. However, the phase speed for the disturbances is almost everywhere slower westward than free planetary waves with mean flow and topography. Since the free waves propagate at speeds similar to observations, instability may be a good source of variability but is probably not responsible directly for observed wave propagation.