A primitive equation model of an idealized ocean basin, driven by simple, study wind and buoyancy forcing at the surface, is used to study the dynamics of mesoscale eddies. Model statistics of a six-year integration using a fine grid (1/6° × 0.2°), with reduced coefficients of horizontal friction, are compared to those using a coarser grid (1/3° × 0.4°), but otherwise identical configuration. Eddy generation in both model cases is primarily due to the release of mean potential energy by baroclinic instability. Horizontal Reynolds stresses become significant near the midlatitude jet of the fine-grid case, with a tendency for preferred energy transfers from the eddies to the mean flow. Using the finer resolution, eddy kinetic energy nearly doubles at the surface of the subtropical gyre, and increases by factors of 3–4 over the jet region and in higher latitudes. The spatial characteristics of the mesoscale fluctuations are examined by calculating zonal wavenumber spectra and velocity autocorrelation functions. With the higher resolution, the dominant eddy scale remains approximately the same in the subtropical gyre but decreases by a factor of 2 in the subpolar areas. The wavenumber spectra indicate a strong influence of the model friction in the coarse-grid case, especially in higher latitudes. Using the coarse grid, there is almost no separation between the energetic eddy scale and the scale where friction begins to dominate, leading to steep spectra beyond the cutoff wavenumber. Using the finer resolution an inertial subrange with a k−3 power law begins to emerge in all model regions outside the equatorial belt.
Despite the large increase of eddy intensity in the fine-grid model, effects on the mean northward transport of heat are negligible. Strong eddy fluxes of heat across the midlatitude jet are almost exactly compensated by changes of the heat transport due to the mean flow.