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Publication Date



UM campus only

Embargo Period


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PHD)


Meteorology and Physical Oceanography (Marine)

Date of Defense


First Committee Member

William E. Johns

Second Committee Member

Donald Olson

Third Committee Member

Igor Kamenkovich

Fourth Committee Member

Eric Chassignet


In the western tropical Atlantic, the North Brazil Current retroflection periodically sheds large anticyclonic rings, which then propagate northwestward. Between 1998 and 2000, the North Brazil Current Rings Experiment sampled a large number of these rings by shipboard and moored acoustic Doppler current profiler. Ten of the sampled rings are analyzed in this study, focusing on their sea surface dynamic properties. The rings exhibit a radial structure consisting of two regimes, an ``inner'' core region in near solid body rotation and an ``outer'' ring regime with an approximately exponentially decaying structure. The observations show a sharp change in vorticity at the regime transition and the presence of a strong opposite vorticity shield bounding the inner solid body core. We show that Gaussian models, commonly used to represent the surface expression of these and other rings, are adequate for determining the sea surface height anomaly but tend to poorly estimate other properties such as the maximum swirl velocity. Therefore, we propose a new two--part model as a better approximation of the rings' radial structure. According to the cyclogeostrophic balance approximation, the sea surface height distribution across the inner ring has a parabolic shape, while the outer ring has an exponential structure similar to the velocity field. Interestingly, many of the observed rings have an intensity very close to the theoretical limit for anticyclones at these latitudes, which is believed to be due to inertial instability. A climatology of the NBCR is developed from 17 years of satellite altimetry. Usually 5 to 7 NBCR are observed per year, leading to an average of 6.1 rings per year, higher than the previously accepted 5.5 rings per year. A new methodology, more robust and consistent, is developed to track the rings, showing an impressive skill. The methodology can be applied to any velocity field, including irregular data grids. In contrast to what was previously believed, the NBCR do have a seasonal cycle. While so clear in the number of generated rings the seasonal cycle is explicit in the rhythm of formation. The rings are usually formed every 30--70 days, being more frequent during the Spring, when they are generated in a regular pace of near 40 days. In the Fall, the rings are less frequent, with a longer and variable time interval between them. The generation of North Brazil Current Rings (NBCR) has been proposed from numerical simulations to result from westward propagation Rossby waves originating from the instability of the North Equatorial Countercurrent (NECC). Other mechanisms, such as instability of he North Brazil Current where it crosses the equator, are also possible, and the precise mechanisms controlling NBCR formation are still undetermined. Here the ``NECC wave mechanism'' for generation of the near surface NBCR is evaluated for the first time from observations -- 18 years of satellite altimetry. Using a Complex Principal Component analysis on maps of absolute dynamic topography, it is shown that the NECC is the origin of the coherent propagating rings along the NBCR corridor. In agreement with the results proposed from previous simulations, the modal solution has a longer wavelength before the retroflection and shorter wavelength along the ring corridor. The seasonal signal of the wave energy in the NECC is also found to be coherent with the seasonal production cycle of the rings, after taking into account phase lags due to wave propagation. It is therefore confirmed that the of NBCR shedding is defined by wave processes arising in the NECC. Further, in contrast with prior understanding, the NBCR are shown to have a seasonal signal that follows the seasonal cycle of the NECC intensity.


North Brazil Current Rings; Tropical Atlantic; Eddies; North Brazil Current; Satellite Altimetry