Near-inertial wave wake of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita over mesoscale oceanic eddies

Benjamin Jaimes, Lynn K. Shay

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

79 Scopus citations


Tropical cyclones (TCs) Katrina and Rita moved as major hurricanes over energetic geostrophic ocean features in the Gulf of Mexico. Increased and reduced oceanic mixed layer (OML) cooling was measured following the passage of both storms over cyclonic and anticyclonic geostrophic relative vorticity ζg, respectively. This contrasting thermal response is investigated here in terms of the evolution of the storms' near-inertial wave wake in geostrophic eddies. Observational data and ray-tracing techniques in realistic geostrophic flow indicate that TC-forced OML near-inertial waves are trapped in regions of negative ζg, where they rapidly propagate into the thermocline. These anticyclonic-rotating regimes coincided with the distribution of reduced OML cooling because rapid downward dispersion of near-inertial energy reduced the amount of kinetic energy available to increase vertical shears at the OML base. By contrast, TC-forced OML near-inertial waves were stalled in upper layers of cyclonic circulations, which strengthened vertical shears and entrainment cooling. Upgoing near-inertial energy propagation dominated inside a geostrophic cyclone that interacted with Katrina; the salient characteristics of these upward-propagating waves were the following: (i) they were radiated from the ocean interior because of geostrophic adjustment following upwelling-downwelling processes; (ii) rather than with the buoyancy frequency, they amplified horizontally as they encountered increasing values of + ζg/2 during upward propagation; and (iii) they produced episodic vertical mixing through shear instability at a critical layer underneath the OML. To improve the prediction of TC-induced OML cooling, models must capture geostrophic features and turbulence closures must represent near-inertial wave processes such as dispersion and breaking between the OML base and the thermocline.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1320-1337
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 2010


  • Eddies
  • Hurricanes
  • Mesoscale processes
  • Oceanic
  • Waves

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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