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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Location and dynamics of the Antarctic Polar Front from satellite sea surface temperature data


The location of the Antarctic Polar Front (PF) was mapped over a 7-year period (1987–1993) within images of satellite-derived sea surface temperature. The mean path of the PF is strongly steered by the topographic features of the Southern Ocean. The topography places vorticity constraints on the dynamics of the PF that strongly affect spatial and temporal variability. Over the deep ocean basins the surface expression of the PF is weakened, and the PF meanders over a wide latitudinal range. Near large topographic features, width and temperature change across the front increase, and large-scale meandering is inhibited. Elevated mesoscale variability is seen within and downstream of these areas and may be the result of baroclinic instabilities initiated where the PF encounters large topographic features. The strong correlations between topography and PF dynamics can be understood in the context of the planetary potential vorticity (PPV orf/H) field. Mean PPV at the PF varies by more than a factor of 2 along its circumpolar path. However, at the mesoscale the PF remains within a relatively narrow range of PPV values around the local mean. Away from large topographic features, the PF returns to a preferred PPV value of ∼25 × 10−9 m−1 s−1 despite large latitudinal shifts. The mean paths of the surface and subsurface expressions of the PF are closely coupled over much of the Southern Ocean.

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