On the steadiness of separating and meandering currents

P.J. van Leeuwen, W.P.M. de Ruijter

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The existence of inertial steady currents that separate from a coast and meander afterward is investigated. By integrating the zonal momentum equation over a suitable area, it is shown that retroflecting currents cannot be steady in a reduced gravity or in a barotropic model of the ocean. Even friction cannot negate this conclusion. Previous literature on this subject, notably the discrepancy between several articles by Nof and Pichevin on the unsteadiness of retroflecting currents and steady solutions presented in other papers, is critically discussed. For more general separating current systems, a local analysis of the zonal momentum balance shows that given a coastal current with a specific zonal momentum structure, an inertial, steady, separating current is unlikely, and the only analytical solution provided in the literature is shown to be inconsistent. In a basin-wide view of these separating current systems, a scaling analysis reveals that steady separation is impossible when the interior flow is nondissipative (e.g., linear Sverdrup-like). These findings point to the possibility that a large part of the variability in the world’s oceans is due to the separation process rather than to instability of a free jet
Original languageUndefined/Unknown
Pages (from-to)437-448
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2009

Cite this