The Ekman spiral for piecewise-uniform viscosity

David Gerard Dritschel, Nathan Paldor, Adrian Constantin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

11 Citations (Scopus)


We re-visit Ekman's (1905) classic problem of wind-stress-induced ocean currents to help interpret observed deviations from Ekman's theory, in particular from the predicted surface current deflection of 45∘. While previous studies have shown that such deviations can be explained by a vertical eddy viscosity varying with depth, as opposed to the constant profile taken by Ekman, analytical progress has been impeded by the difficulty in solving Ekman's equation. Herein, we present a solution for piecewise-constant eddy viscosity which enables a comprehensive understanding of how the surface deflection angle depends on the vertical profile of eddy viscosity. For two layers, the dimensionless problem depends only on the depth of the upper layer and the ratio of layer viscosities. A single diagram then allows one to understand the dependence of the deflection angle on these two parameters.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1089–1093
JournalOcean Science
Publication statusPublished - 18 Sept 2020


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