Characterization of the structure and cross-shore transport properties of a coastal upwelling filament using three-dimensional finite-size Lyapunov exponents

Bettencourt, J.H.; Rossi, V.; Hernandez-Garcia, E.; Marta-Almeida, M.; Lopez, C.
Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans 122, 7433-7448 (2017)

The three dimensional structure, dynamics and dispersion characteristics of a simulated upwelling filament in the Iberian upwelling system are analyzed using Lagrangian tools. We used a realistic regional simulation of the western Iberian shelf which is concomitant with an in-situ oceanographic campaign that surveyed the area.
We compute 3d fields of finite--size Lyapunov exponents (FSLE) from 3d velocity fields and extract the field's ridges to study the spatial distribution and temporal evolution of the Lagrangian Coherent Structures (LCSs) evolving around the filament. We find that the most intense curtain-like LCSs delimit the boundaries of the whole filamentary structure whose general properties match well the observations. The filament interior is characterized by small dispersion of fluid elements. Furthermore, we identify a weak LCS separating the filament into a warmer vein and a colder filament associated with the interaction of a mesoscale eddy with the upwelling front. The cold upwelled water parcels move along the filament conserving their density. The filament itself is characterized by small dispersion of fluid elements in its interior. The comparison of LCSs with potential temperature and salinity gradient fields shows that the outer limits of the filament coincide with regions of large hydrographic gradients, similar to those observed, explaining the isolation of the interior of the filament with the surrounding waters. We conclude that the Lagrangian analysis used in this work is useful in explaining the dynamics of cross-shore exchanges of materials between coastal regions and the open ocean due to mesoscale processes.

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