The North Pacific Subtropical Counter Current (STCC) is a weak zonal current comprising of a weak eastward flow near the surface (with speeds of less than 0.1 m/s and a thickness of approximately 50-100 m) and westward flow (the North Equatorial Current) beneath. Previous studies (e.g., Qiu J Phys Oceanogr 29: 2471-2486, 1999) have shown that the STCC is baroclinically unstable. Therefore, despite its weak mean speeds, nonlinear STCC eddies with diameters ~300 km or larger and rotational speeds exceeding the eddy propagation speeds develop (Samelson J Phys Oceanogr 27: 2645-2662, 1997; Chelton et al. Prog Oceanogr 91: 167-216, 2011). In this study, the authors present numerical experiments to describe and explain the instability and eddy-generation processes of the STCC and the seasonal variation. Emphasis is on finite-amplitude eddies which are analyzed based on the parameter of Okubo (Deep-Sea Res 17: 445-454, 1970) and Weiss (Physica D 48: 273-294, 1991). The temperature and salinity distribution in March and April offer the favorable condition for eddies to grow, while September and October are unfavorable seasons for the generation of eddies. STCC is maintained not only by subsurface front but also by the sea surface temperature (SST) front. The seasonal variation of the vertical shear is dominated by the seasonal surface STCC velocity. The SST front enhances the instability and lead to the faster growth of STCC eddies in winter and spring. The near-surface processes are therefore crucial for the STCC system.
- Okubo-Weiss method