The Unpredictable Nature of Internal Tides on Continental Shelves

Jonathan D. Nash College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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Samuel M. Kelly University of Western Australia, Perth, Western Australia, Australia

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Emily L. Shroyer College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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James N. Moum College of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon

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Timothy F. Duda Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Abstract

Packets of nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs) in a small area of the Mid-Atlantic Bight were 10 times more energetic during a local neap tide than during the preceding spring tide. This counterintuitive result cannot be explained if the waves are generated near the shelf break by the local barotropic tide since changes in shelfbreak stratification explain only a small fraction of the variability in barotropic to baroclinic conversion. Instead, this study suggests that the occurrence of strong NLIWs was caused by the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides with amplitudes that are uncorrelated with the local spring-neap cycle. An extensive set of moored observations show that NLIWs are correlated with the internal tide but uncorrelated with barotropic tide. Using harmonic analysis of a 40-day record, this study associates steady-phase motions at the shelf break with waves generated by the local barotropic tide and variable-phase motions with the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides. The dual sources of internal tide energy (local or remote) mean that shelf internal tides and NLIWs will be predictable with a local model only if the locally generated internal tides are significantly stronger than shoaling internal tides. Since the depth-integrated internal tide energy in the open ocean can greatly exceed that on the shelf, it is likely that shoaling internal tides control the energetics on shelves that are directly exposed to the open ocean.

Corresponding author address: Jonathan D. Nash, 104 CEOAS Admin. Bldg., Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331. E-mail: nash@coas.oregonstate.edu

Abstract

Packets of nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs) in a small area of the Mid-Atlantic Bight were 10 times more energetic during a local neap tide than during the preceding spring tide. This counterintuitive result cannot be explained if the waves are generated near the shelf break by the local barotropic tide since changes in shelfbreak stratification explain only a small fraction of the variability in barotropic to baroclinic conversion. Instead, this study suggests that the occurrence of strong NLIWs was caused by the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides with amplitudes that are uncorrelated with the local spring-neap cycle. An extensive set of moored observations show that NLIWs are correlated with the internal tide but uncorrelated with barotropic tide. Using harmonic analysis of a 40-day record, this study associates steady-phase motions at the shelf break with waves generated by the local barotropic tide and variable-phase motions with the shoaling of distantly generated internal tides. The dual sources of internal tide energy (local or remote) mean that shelf internal tides and NLIWs will be predictable with a local model only if the locally generated internal tides are significantly stronger than shoaling internal tides. Since the depth-integrated internal tide energy in the open ocean can greatly exceed that on the shelf, it is likely that shoaling internal tides control the energetics on shelves that are directly exposed to the open ocean.

Corresponding author address: Jonathan D. Nash, 104 CEOAS Admin. Bldg., Oregon State University, Corvallis, OR 97331. E-mail: nash@coas.oregonstate.edu
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