The buoyancy-driven circulation is studied in an idealized domain using two models, one based on the linearized planetary geostrophic equations and a fully nonlinear GCM. The surface buoyancy is specified (relaxed) to a chosen function of latitude in the linear (nonlinear) model. The models yield similar baroclinic flow in the interior, where the surface velocities are primarily zonal, and near the southern boundary, where a westward surface flow feeds the western boundary current (WBC). They differ however in the north. While the linear model has westward surface flow of limited vertical extent near the northern wall, the GCM has baroclinic flow which extends to the bottom with eastward surface velocities. The difference is due to convection, which weakens the stratification in the nonlinear model, amplifying the thermal wind transport associated with the surface buoyancy gradient. The WBC flow in the GCM feeds this, with northward surface flow over its entire length (as seen in nearly all previous similar studies). This in turn determines the meridional overturning circulation, since the WBC accounts for the largest meridional velocities. Roughly half the upwelling occurs in the WBC in the GCM and half in the interior, while the upwelling occurs in the interior and near the southern wall in the linear model. The study highlights the role of convection in modifying the response to the surface buoyancy gradient.
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