Submesoscale kinematic properties in summer and winter surface flows in the Northern Gulf of Mexico


Statistical properties of near‐surface horizontal velocity gradients are obtained from four drifter experiments conducted in the Gulf Mexico during Summer 2012 and Winter 2016. The data density provided by the near‐simultaneous deployments of 90‐326 surface drifters in each allows direct, drifter‐based estimates of the scale dependence of velocity gradients at separation scales ranging from 200 m to 5 km. The robustness of these estimates, derived from uniquley sampled, nearly equilateral triplets, is confirmed by comparisons with estimates produced from larger drifter clusters, and with estimates based on concurrent Eulerian X‐band radar observations. The winter launches were deployed above a ~80 m deep mixed layer, one in a region with nearly homogeneous horizontal density structure, the other in a region of strong surface density gradients associated with filaments of fresh Mississippi River water. The summer launches occurred in a shallow (10m) mixed layer, one launched across a mesoscale frontal jet separating regions of horizontally homogeneous density and the other, similar to the corresponding winter launch, also in a region filamented by shallow lenses of cold, fresh water. Seasonal differences are observed, with larger velocity fluctuations and greater variance in divergence and vorticity, especially at the smallest scales, in winter. Differences between same‐season launches are, however, as large as seasonal differences. In both seasons, observations sampling regions directly impacted by fresh water fluxes show strongly skewed vorticity distributions, with cyclonic vorticity dominating strain. For the other launches, one in each season, strain dominated minimally skewed vorticity.
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