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Non-Normal Effects on Salt Finger Growth

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Salt fingers, which occur because of the difference in diffusivities of salt and heat in water, may play an important role in ocean mixing and circulation. Previous studies have suggested the long-time dominance of initially fastest growing finger perturbations. Finger growth has been theoretically derived in terms of the normal modes of the idealized system, which include a growing mode and a pair of decaying internal wave modes. Because these normal modes are not orthogonal, however, transient effects can occur related to the interaction between the modes, as explained by the generalized stability theory of non-normal growth. Initial growth of a perturbation that is not along a normal mode can be faster than the leading normal mode. In this study, the effects of non-normal growth on salt finger formation are investigated. It is shown that some salt finger perturbations that are a superposition of the growing mode and the decaying modes initially grow faster than pure growing normal mode perturbations. These non-normal effects are found to be significant for up to 10 or more e-folding times of the growing normal mode. The generalization of the standard idealized salt finger growth dynamics to include non-normal effects is found to lead to fastest-growing fingers that agree less well with observed fully developed salt fingers than the fastest-growing normal mode previously investigated.

Corresponding author address: Ian Eisenman, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138. Email: eisenman@fas.harvard.edu

Abstract

Salt fingers, which occur because of the difference in diffusivities of salt and heat in water, may play an important role in ocean mixing and circulation. Previous studies have suggested the long-time dominance of initially fastest growing finger perturbations. Finger growth has been theoretically derived in terms of the normal modes of the idealized system, which include a growing mode and a pair of decaying internal wave modes. Because these normal modes are not orthogonal, however, transient effects can occur related to the interaction between the modes, as explained by the generalized stability theory of non-normal growth. Initial growth of a perturbation that is not along a normal mode can be faster than the leading normal mode. In this study, the effects of non-normal growth on salt finger formation are investigated. It is shown that some salt finger perturbations that are a superposition of the growing mode and the decaying modes initially grow faster than pure growing normal mode perturbations. These non-normal effects are found to be significant for up to 10 or more e-folding times of the growing normal mode. The generalization of the standard idealized salt finger growth dynamics to include non-normal effects is found to lead to fastest-growing fingers that agree less well with observed fully developed salt fingers than the fastest-growing normal mode previously investigated.

Corresponding author address: Ian Eisenman, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, MA 02138. Email: eisenman@fas.harvard.edu

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