Standing Eddies in the Meridional Overturning Circulation
Abstract The role of standing eddies for the meridional overturning circulation (MOC) is discussed. The time-mean isopycnal meridional streamfunction is decomposed into a time- and zonal-mean part, a standing-eddy part, and a transient-eddy part. It turns out that the construction of an isopycnal MOC with an exactly vanishing standing-eddy part has to be performed by zonal integration along depth-dependent horizontal isolines of time-mean density. In contrast, zonal integration along time-mean geostrophic streamlines generally only leads to an isopycnal MOC with a reduced standing-eddy part. A generalized approach of constructing meridional transport streamfunctions by two tracer fields and the generalized way to neutralize the corresponding standing-eddy part is given to summarize the discussion. Using the results of an idealized Southern Ocean model, it is demonstrated that neglecting the depth dependence of the zonal integration paths by integrating along density contours or geostrophic streamlines of a fixed depth (?contour depth?) may represent an acceptable approximation: although the standing-eddy part then exactly vanishes only at the contour depth (except for the ageostrophic surface layer using geostrophic streamlines), the overall standing-eddy part is significantly reduced for adequate contour depths. In the idealized Southern Ocean model, density contours at middepth and surface geostrophic streamlines represent the most adequate approximations. Moreover, it is found that the effect of changing the zonal integration paths from latitude circles to curvilinear paths on the zonally averaged density is of the same order as changing from Eulerian to isopycnal averaging.