The Polar Front in Drake Passage: A composite-mean stream-coordinate view

Annie Foppert, Kathleen A. Donohue, D. Randolph Watts

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11 Scopus citations


The Polar Front (PF) is studied using 4 years of data collected by a line of current- and pressure-recording inverted echo sounders in Drake Passage complemented with satellite altimetry. The location of the PF is bimodal in latitude. A northern and southern PF exist at separate times, separated geographically by a seafloor ridge - the Shackleton Fracture Zone - and hydrographically by 17 cm of geopotential height. Expressed in stream coordinates, vertical structures of buoyancy are determined with a gravest empirical mode analysis. Baroclinic velocity referenced to zero at 3500 dbar, width, and full transport (about 70 Sv) of the jets are statistically indistinguishable; the two jets alternate carrying the baroclinic transport rather than coexisting. Influences of local bathymetry and deep cyclogenesis manifest as differences in deep reference velocity structures. Downstream reference velocities of the PF-N and PF-S reach maximum speeds of 0.09 and 0.06 m s-1, respectively. Buoyancy fields are indicative of upwelling and poleward residual circulation at the PF. Based on potential vorticity and mixing lengths, the northern and southern PF both act as a barrier to cross-frontal exchange while remaining susceptible to baroclinic instability.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1771-1788
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Drake Passage
  • Southern Ocean
  • polar front
  • stream coordinates


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