On the role of bottom roughness in overflows

Tamay M. Özgökmen, Paul F. Fischer

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Overflows play an important role in the downwelling limb of the oceanic thermohaline circulation. In light of the recognition that some overflows are not homogenous but exhibit a vertical density structure, and details of topography influence the pathways of some overflows, the impact of topographic roughness on the product property distribution is explored using the 3D non-hydrostatic spectral element model Nek5000. Numerical experiments are carried out by varying bottom roughness amplitude and ambient stratification parameters, in a regime where equilibrated product water masses are formed in a non-rotating environment. Our main finding is that bottom roughness can influence the overflow product distribution such that the highest salinity classes are removed and neutral buoyancy level is attained higher up in the stratified ambient water column. It is also shown that the form drag coefficients in overflows over rough bottom can be much larger than the skin drag coefficient over smooth bottom. To our knowledge, form drag has never been measured in oceanic overflows. As such, these numerical experiments imply that such measurements would be useful for a better understanding of overflow dynamics. It is also found that the ratio of source and product overflow mass transports is robust to changes in bottom roughness. This appears to happen because the distribution of entrainment is totally different in the case of rough bottom. Entrainment tends to initiate earlier (due to vertical motion induced by topography) and terminate earlier (due to development of form drag) than that over smooth topography.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)336-361
Number of pages26
JournalOcean Modelling
Issue number4
StatePublished - 2008
Externally publishedYes

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computer Science (miscellaneous)
  • Geotechnical Engineering and Engineering Geology
  • Oceanography
  • Atmospheric Science


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