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Ocean Science An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
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Volume 11, issue 3
Ocean Sci., 11, 391–403, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
Ocean Sci., 11, 391–403, 2015
© Author(s) 2015. This work is distributed under
the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.

Research article 21 May 2015

Research article | 21 May 2015

Friction and mixing effects on potential vorticity for bottom current crossing a marine strait: an application to the Sicily Channel (central Mediterranean Sea)

F. Falcini and E. Salusti F. Falcini and E. Salusti
  • CNR-ISAC, Via del Fosso del Cavaliere 100, 00133 Rome, Italy

Abstract. We discuss here the evolution of vorticity and potential vorticity (PV) for a bottom current crossing a marine channel in shallow-water approximation, focusing on the effect of friction and mixing. The purpose of this research is indeed to investigate the role of friction and vertical entrainment on vorticity and PV spatial evolution in channels or straits when along-channel morphology variations are significant. To pursue this investigation, we pose the vorticity and PV equations for a homogeneous bottom water vein and we calculate these two quantities as an integral form. Our theoretical findings are considered in the context of in situ hydrographic data related to the Eastern Mediterranean Deep Water (EMDW), i.e., a dense, bottom water vein that flows northwestward, along the Sicily Channel (Mediterranean Sea). Indeed, the narrow sill of this channel implies that friction and entrainment need to be considered. Small tidal effects in the Sicily Channel allow for a steady theoretical approach.

We argue that bottom current vorticity is prone to significant sign changes and oscillations due to topographic effects when, in particular, the current flows over the sill of a channel. These vorticity variations are, however, modulated by frictional effects due to seafloor roughness and morphology. Such behavior is also reflected in the PV spatial evolution, which shows an abrupt peak around the sill region. Our diagnoses on vorticity and PV allow us to obtain general insights about the effect of mixing and friction on the pathway and internal structure of bottom-trapped currents flowing through channels and straits, and to discuss spatial variability of the frictional coefficient. Our approach significantly differs from other PV-constant approaches previously used in studying the dynamics of bottom currents flowing through rotating channels.

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