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Characteristics and Dynamics of Density Fronts over the Inner to Midshelf under Weak Wind Conditions


AbstractHere, we explore the kinematics and dynamics of coastal density fronts (within 10 km from shore and <30-m depth), identified using an edge detection algorithm, in a realistic high-resolution model of the San Diego Bight with relatively weak winds and small freshwater input. The density fronts have lengths spanning 4–10 km and surface density gradients spanning 2–20 × 10−4 kg m−4. Cross-shore-oriented fronts are more likely with northward subtidal flow and are 1/3 as numerous as alongshore-oriented fronts, which are more likely with onshore surface baroclinic diurnal flow. Using a subset of the cross-shore fronts, decomposed into cross-front mean and perturbation components, an ensemble front is created. The ensemble cross-front mean flow is largely geostrophic in the cross- and alongfront directions. The ensemble cross-shore front extends several kilometers from shore, with a distinct linear front axis and downwelling (upwelling) on the dense (light) side of the front, convergent perturbation cross-front flow within the upper 5 m, strengthening the ensemble front. Vertical mixing of momentum is weak, counter to the turbulent thermal wind mechanism. The ensemble cross-shore front resembles a gravity current and is generated by a convergent strain field acting on the large-scale density field. The ensemble front is bounded by the shoreline and is alongfront geostrophic and cross-front ageostrophic. This contrasts with the cross-front geostrophic and alongfront ageostrophic balances of classic deformation frontogenesis, but is consistent with semigeostrophic coastal circulation.

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