Sea Surface Height Variability and Eddy Statistical Properties in the Red Sea

  • Peng Zhan

Student thesis: Master's Thesis


Satellite sea surface height (SSH) data over 1992-2012 are analyzed to study the spatial and temporal variability of sea level in the Red Sea. Empirical orthogonal functions (EOF) analysis suggests the remarkable seasonality of SSH in the Red Sea, and a significant correlation is found between SSH variation and seasonal wind cycle. A winding-angle based eddy identification algorithm is employed to derive the mesoscale eddy information from SSH data. Totally more than 5500 eddies are detected, belonging to 2583 eddy tracks. Statistics suggest that eddies generate over the entire Red Sea, with two regions in the central basin of high eddy frequency. 76% of the detected eddies have a radius ranging from 40km to 100km, of which both intensity and absolute vorticity decrease with eddy radius. The average eddy lifespan is about 5 weeks, and eddies with longer lifespan tend to have larger radius but less intensity. Different deformation rate exists between anticyclonic eddies (AEs) and cyclonic eddies (CEs), those eddies with higher intensity appear to be less deformed and more circular. Inspection of the 84 long-lived eddies suggests the AEs tend to move a little more northward than CEs. AE generation during summer is obviously lower than that during other seasons, while CE generation is higher during spring and summer. Other features of AEs and CEs are similar with both vorticity and intensity reaching the summer peaks in August and winter peaks in January. Inter-annual variability reveals that the eddies in the Red Sea are isolated from the global event. The eddy property tendencies are different from the south and north basin, both of which exhibit a two-year cycle. Showing a correlation coefficient of -0.91, Brunt–Väisälä frequency is negatively correlated with eddy kinetic energy (EKE), which results from AE activities in the high eddy frequency region. Climatological vertical velocity shear variation is identical with EKE except in the autumn, suggesting the vertical shear could convert the energy from baroclinic instability into eddy activity. Finally, numerical simulation results from the MIT general circulation model (MITgcm) are validated with previous studies and observations. The vertical structure of the simulated flux through Bab el Mandeb is successfully reproduced. Further validation with the 2010 cruise suggests that the thermocline occurs at ~200m, but the model vertical salinity gradient is lower than the observations. The model surface eddy variability is also examined, suggesting good agreement with satellite observations.
Date of AwardMay 2013
Original languageEnglish (US)
Awarding Institution
  • Physical Sciences and Engineering
SupervisorIbrahim Hoteit (Supervisor)


  • Eddy
  • The Red Sea
  • SSH
  • Statistics
  • MITgcm

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