Loop Current Eddy formation and baroclinic instability

K. A. Donohue, D. R. Watts, P. Hamilton, R. Leben, M. Kennelly

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

65 Scopus citations


The formation of three Loop Current Eddies, Ekman, Franklin, and Hadal, during the period April 2009 through November 2011 was observed by an array of moored current meters and bottom mounted pressure equipped inverted echo sounders. The array design, areal extent nominally 89° W to 85° W, 25° N to 27° N with 30–50 km mesoscale resolution, permits quantitative mapping of the regional circulation at all depths. During Loop Current Eddy detachment and formation events, a marked increase in deep eddy kinetic energy occurs coincident with the growth of a large-scale meander along the northern and eastern parts of the Loop Current. Deep eddies develop in a pattern where the deep fields were offset and leading upper meanders consistent with developing baroclinic instability. The interaction between the upper and deep fields is quantified by evaluating the mean eddy potential energy budget. Largest down-gradient heat fluxes are found along the eastern side of the Loop Current. Where strong, the horizontal down-gradient eddy heat flux (baroclinic conversion rate) nearly balances the vertical down-gradient eddy heat flux indicating that eddies extract available potential energy from the mean field and convert eddy potential energy to eddy kinetic energy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)195-216
Number of pages22
JournalDynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans
StatePublished - Dec 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Baroclinic instability
  • Mesoscale Eddies
  • Western boundary currents


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