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Near-Inertial Wave Propagation in the Western Arctic

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  • 1 Marine Physical Laboratory, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, La Jolla, California
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Abstract

From October 1997 through October 1998, the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) ice camp drifted across the western Arctic Ocean, from the central Canada Basin over the Northwind Ridge and across the Chukchi Cap. During much of this period, the velocity and shear fields in the upper ocean were monitored by Doppler sonar. Near-inertial internal waves are found to be the dominant contributors to the superinertial motion field. Typical rms velocities are 1–2 cm s−1. In this work, the velocity and shear variances associated with upward- and downward-propagating wave groups are quantified. Patterns are detected in these variances that correlate with underlying seafloor depth. These are explored with the objective of assessing the role that these extremely low-energy near-inertial waves play in the larger-scale evolution of the Canada Basin. The specific focus is the energy flux delivered to the slopes and shelves of the basin, available for driving mixing at the ocean boundaries. The energy and shear variances associated with downward-propagating waves are relatively uniform over the entire SHEBA drift, independent of the season and depth of the underlying topography. Variances associated with upward-propagating waves follow a (depth)−1/2 dependence. Over the deep slopes, vertical wavenumber spectra of upward-propagating waves are blue-shifted relative to their downward counterparts, perhaps a result of reflection from a sloping seafloor. To aid in interpretation of the observations, a simple, linear model is used to compare the effects of viscous (volume) versus underice (surface) dissipation for near-inertial waves. The latter is found to be the dominant mechanism. A parallel examination of the topography of the western Arctic shows that much of the continental slope is close to critical for near-inertial wave reflection. The picture that emerges is consistent with “one bounce” rather than trans-Arctic propagation. The dominant surface-generated waves are substantially absorbed in the underice boundary layer following a single roundtrip to the seafloor. However, surface-generated waves can interact strongly with nearby (<300 km) slopes, potentially contributing to dissipation rates of order 10−6–10−7 W m−3 in a zone several hundred meters above the bottom. The waves that survive the reflection process (and are not back-reflected) display a measurable blue shift over the slopes and contribute to the observed dependence of energy on seafloor depth that is seen in these upper-ocean observations.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert Pinkel, MPL/SIO, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0213. Email: pinkel@mpl.ucsd.edu

Abstract

From October 1997 through October 1998, the Surface Heat Budget of the Arctic (SHEBA) ice camp drifted across the western Arctic Ocean, from the central Canada Basin over the Northwind Ridge and across the Chukchi Cap. During much of this period, the velocity and shear fields in the upper ocean were monitored by Doppler sonar. Near-inertial internal waves are found to be the dominant contributors to the superinertial motion field. Typical rms velocities are 1–2 cm s−1. In this work, the velocity and shear variances associated with upward- and downward-propagating wave groups are quantified. Patterns are detected in these variances that correlate with underlying seafloor depth. These are explored with the objective of assessing the role that these extremely low-energy near-inertial waves play in the larger-scale evolution of the Canada Basin. The specific focus is the energy flux delivered to the slopes and shelves of the basin, available for driving mixing at the ocean boundaries. The energy and shear variances associated with downward-propagating waves are relatively uniform over the entire SHEBA drift, independent of the season and depth of the underlying topography. Variances associated with upward-propagating waves follow a (depth)−1/2 dependence. Over the deep slopes, vertical wavenumber spectra of upward-propagating waves are blue-shifted relative to their downward counterparts, perhaps a result of reflection from a sloping seafloor. To aid in interpretation of the observations, a simple, linear model is used to compare the effects of viscous (volume) versus underice (surface) dissipation for near-inertial waves. The latter is found to be the dominant mechanism. A parallel examination of the topography of the western Arctic shows that much of the continental slope is close to critical for near-inertial wave reflection. The picture that emerges is consistent with “one bounce” rather than trans-Arctic propagation. The dominant surface-generated waves are substantially absorbed in the underice boundary layer following a single roundtrip to the seafloor. However, surface-generated waves can interact strongly with nearby (<300 km) slopes, potentially contributing to dissipation rates of order 10−6–10−7 W m−3 in a zone several hundred meters above the bottom. The waves that survive the reflection process (and are not back-reflected) display a measurable blue shift over the slopes and contribute to the observed dependence of energy on seafloor depth that is seen in these upper-ocean observations.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Robert Pinkel, MPL/SIO, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92093-0213. Email: pinkel@mpl.ucsd.edu

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