Wind driven general circulation of the Mediterranean Sea simulated with a spectral element ocean model

A. Molcard, N. Pinardi, M. Iskandarani, D. B. Haidvogel

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Scopus citations


This work is an attempt to simulate the Mediterranean Sea general circulation with a Spectral Finite Element Model. This numerical technique associates the geometrical flexibility of the finite elements for the proper coastline definition with the precision offered by spectral methods. The model is reduced gravity and we study the wind-driven ocean response in order to explain the large scale sub-basin gyres and their variability. The study period goes from January 1987 to December 1993 and two forcing data sets are used. The effect of wind variability in space and time is analyzed and the relationship between wind stress curl and ocean response is stressed. Some of the main permanent structures of the general circulation (Gulf of Lions cyclonic gyre, Rhodes gyre, Gulf of Syrte anticylone) are shown to be induced by permanent wind stress curl structures. The magnitude and spatial variability of the wind is important in determining the appearance or disappearance of some gyres (Tyrrhenian anticyclonic gyre, Balearic anticyclonic gyre, Ionian cyclonic gyre). An EOF analysis of the seasonal variability indicates that the weakening and strengthening of the Lavantine basin boundary currents is a major component of the seasonal cycle in the basin. The important discovery is that seasonal and interannual variability peak at the same spatial scales in the ocean response and that the interannual variability includes the change in amplitude and phase of the seasonal cycle in the sub-basin scale gyres and boundary currents. The Coriolis term in the vorticity balance seems to be responsible for the weakening of anticyclonic structures and their total disappearance when they are close to a boundary. The process of adjustment to winds produces a train of coastally trapped gravity waves which travel around the eastern and western basins, respectively in approximately 6 months. This corresponds to a phase velocity for the wave of about 1 m/s, comparable to an average velocity of an internal Kelvin wave in the area.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)97-130
Number of pages34
JournalDynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans
Issue number2
StatePublished - May 2002


  • Empirical orthogonal functions
  • Interannual and seasonal variability
  • Numerical modelling

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences
  • Atmospheric Science


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