Influences of Mesoscale Ocean Eddies on Flow Vertical Structure in a Resolution-Based Model Hierarchy

Elizabeth Yankovsky, Laure Zanna, K. Shafer Smith

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The understanding and representation of energetic transfers associated with ocean mesoscale eddies is fundamental to the development of parameterizations for climate models. We investigate the influence of eddies on flow vertical structure as a function of underlying dynamical regime and grid resolution. We employ the GFDL-MOM6 in an idealized configuration and systematically consider four horizontal resolutions: 1/4°, 1/8°, 1/16°, and 1/32°. We analyze the distributions of potential and kinetic energy, decomposed into barotropic and baroclinic, and eddy and mean parts. As resolution increases and baroclinically unstable modes are better captured, kinetic energy increases and potential energy decreases. The dominant trend in vertical structure is an increasing fraction of kinetic energy going into the barotropic mode, particularly its eddy component, as eddies are increasingly resolved. We attribute the increased baroclinicity at low resolutions to inaccurate representation of vertical energy fluxes, leading to suppressed barotropization and energy trapping in high vertical modes. We also explore how the underlying dynamical regime influences energetic pathways. In cases where large-scale flow is dominantly barotropic, resolving the deformation radius is less crucial to accurately capturing the flow's vertical structure. We find the barotropic kinetic energy fraction to be a useful metric in assessing vertical structure. In the highest-resolution case, the barotropic kinetic energy fraction correlates with the scale separation between the deformation scale and the energy-containing scale, that is, the extent of the eddy-driven inverse cascade. This work suggests that mesoscale eddy parameterizations should incorporate the energetic effects of eddies on vertical structure in a scale-aware, physically informed manner.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2022MS003203
JournalJournal of Advances in Modeling Earth Systems
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2022


  • idealized modeling
  • mesoscale eddies
  • parameterization

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Global and Planetary Change
  • Environmental Chemistry
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences


Dive into the research topics of 'Influences of Mesoscale Ocean Eddies on Flow Vertical Structure in a Resolution-Based Model Hierarchy'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this