Lagrangian surface signatures reveal upper-ocean vertical displacement conduits near oceanic density fronts

H. M. Aravind, Vicky Verma, Sutanu Sarkar, Mara A. Freilich, Amala Mahadevan, Patrick J. Haley, Pierre F.J. Lermusiaux, Michael R. Allshouse*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Vertical transport in the ocean plays a critical role in the exchange of freshwater, heat, nutrients, and other biogeochemical tracers. While there are situations where vertical fluxes are important, studying the vertical transport and displacement of material requires analysis over a finite interval of time. One such example is the subduction of fluid from the mixed layer into the pycnocline, which is known to occur near density fronts. Divergence has been used to estimate vertical velocities indicating that surface measurements, where observational data is most widely available, can be used to locate these vertical transport conduits. We evaluate the correlation between surface signatures derived from Eulerian (horizontal divergence, density gradient, and vertical velocity) and Lagrangian (dilation rate and finite time Lyapunov exponent) metrics and vertical displacement conduits. Two submesoscale resolving models of density fronts and a data-assimilative model of the western Mediterranean were analyzed. The Lagrangian surface signatures locate significantly more of the strongest displacement features and the difference in the expected displacements relative to Eulerian ones increases with the length of the time interval considered. Ensemble analysis of forecasts from the Mediterranean model demonstrates that the Lagrangian surface signatures can be used to identify regions of strongest downward vertical displacement even without knowledge of the true ocean state.

Original languageEnglish
Article number102136
JournalOcean Modelling
StatePublished - Feb 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Front
  • Lagrangian
  • Submesoscale
  • Vertical transport


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