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Standing Eddies in Glacial Fjords and their Role in Fjord Circulation and Melt
  • Ken Zhao
Ken Zhao
Oregon State University

Corresponding Author:zhazorken@gmail.com

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Glacial fjord circulation modulates the connection between marine-terminating glaciers and the ocean currents offshore. These fjords exhibit a complex 3D circulation with overturning and horizontal recirculation components, which are both primarily driven by water mass transformation at the head of the fjord via subglacial discharge plumes and distributed meltwater plumes. However, little is known about the 3D circulation in realistic fjord geometries. In this study, we present high-resolution numerical simulations of three glacial fjords (Ilulissat, Sermilik, and Kangerdlugssuaq), which exhibit along-fjord overturning circulations similar to previous studies. However, one important new phenomenon that deviates from previous results is the emergence of multiple standing eddies in each of the simulated fjords, as a result of realistic fjord geometries. These standing eddies are long-lived, take months to spin up and prefer locations over the widest regions of deep-water fjords, with some that periodically merge with other eddies. The residence time of Lagrangian particles within these eddies are significantly larger than waters outside of the eddies. These eddies are most significant for two reasons: (1) they account for a majority of the vorticity dissipation required to balance the vorticity generated by discharge and meltwater plume entrainment and act to spin down the overall recirculation; (2) if the eddies prefer locations near the ice face, their azimuthal velocities can significantly increase melt rates. Therefore, the existence of standing eddies are an important factor to consider in glacial fjord circulation and melt rates and should be taken into account in models and observations.