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Who Would’ve Known? Seasonally Recurring Giant Eddy
Seen Off California

15 February, 2010

Remember the fascinating double-gyre structure Jeff Paduan discovered off Monterey Bay 15 years ago from SeaSonde current maps? A bit over a year ago, Greg Crawford and Shannon Stone (of Humboldt State); Chris Halle and John Largier (of Bodega Marine Laboratory) found a giant eddy lurking off Mendocino with their recently installed Long-Range SeaSonde at Shelter Cove, combined with the unit at Pt. Arena. This eddy, they determined, was produced by the NNW winds that drive upwelling off the coast during August - October every year. It is a regular visitor during this period.

As the resulting cold-water jet, up to 2 knots near the coast, flows to the South,it becomes an anticyclonic eddy that has a mammoth diameter up to 170 km. Entrainingwarmer water in its center, shown by the lighter color in these consecutive figuresthe colder coastal waters are swept offshore around its Southern edge. Althoughthe example here was seen in 2008, we can attest that this same huge eddy wasthe most prominent eye-catching feature seen in the zoomed-out West-Coast HFRNet data during the same period in 2009.

These long-range radars are part of the COCMP network that now comprises 60 SeaSondescovering the State of California. Many of the radars are shorter-range, higher-resolutionunits centered around populated areas and bays. But the long-range systems spanthe shelf, and when combined with satellite observations like temperature, revealfascinating dynamics that impact biological fisheries productivity we dependon along our West Coast. As the upwelling winds die (wind shown as the red arrow),this fascinating feature disappears, and a relaxation phase with weak Northerlyflows dominates near the coast the remainder of the year.

The authors of the AGU presentation in which this discovery was displayed usedanimations they called “particle backtracking” from the SeaSonde current mapsto determine the origins of the water from a grid of points within the eddy.This type of analysis reveals the surface water pathways and length of time ittakes floating particles to traverse the region. The figures below are from thatpresentation.
Who Would’ve Known? Seasonally Recurring Giant EddySeen Off California



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