Near-N Oscillations and Deep-Cycle Turbulence in an Upper-Equatorial Undercurrent Model

Hieu T. Pham Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

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Sutanu Sarkar Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

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Kraig B. Winters Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, and Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, California

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Abstract

Direct numerical simulation (DNS) is used to investigate the role of shear instabilities in turbulent mixing in a model of the upper Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC). The background flow consists of a westward-moving surface mixed layer above a stably stratified EUC flowing to the east. An important characteristic of the eastward current is that the gradient Richardson number Rig is larger than ¼. Nevertheless, the overall flow is unstable and DNS is used to investigate the generation of intermittent bursts of turbulent motions within the EUC region where Rig > ¼. In this model, an asymmetric Holmboe instability emerges at the base of the mixed layer, moves at the speed of the local velocity, and ejects wisps of fluid from the EUC upward. At the crests of the Holmboe waves, secondary Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities develop, leading to three-dimensional turbulent motions. Vortices formed by the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability are occasionally ejected downward and stretched by the EUC into a horseshoe configuration creating intermittent bursts of turbulence at depth. Vertically coherent oscillations, with wavelength and frequency matching those of the Holmboe waves, propagate horizontally in the EUC where the turbulent mixing by the horseshoe vortices occurs. The oscillations are able to transport momentum and energy from the mixed layer downward into the EUC. They do not overturn the isopycnals, however, and, though correlated in space and time with the turbulent bursts, are not directly responsible for their generation. These wavelike features and intermittent turbulent bursts are qualitatively similar to the near-N oscillations and the deep-cycle turbulence observed at the upper flank of the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent.

Corresponding author address: Hieu T. Pham, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92092. E-mail: h8pham@ucsd.edu

Abstract

Direct numerical simulation (DNS) is used to investigate the role of shear instabilities in turbulent mixing in a model of the upper Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC). The background flow consists of a westward-moving surface mixed layer above a stably stratified EUC flowing to the east. An important characteristic of the eastward current is that the gradient Richardson number Rig is larger than ¼. Nevertheless, the overall flow is unstable and DNS is used to investigate the generation of intermittent bursts of turbulent motions within the EUC region where Rig > ¼. In this model, an asymmetric Holmboe instability emerges at the base of the mixed layer, moves at the speed of the local velocity, and ejects wisps of fluid from the EUC upward. At the crests of the Holmboe waves, secondary Kelvin–Helmholtz instabilities develop, leading to three-dimensional turbulent motions. Vortices formed by the Kelvin–Helmholtz instability are occasionally ejected downward and stretched by the EUC into a horseshoe configuration creating intermittent bursts of turbulence at depth. Vertically coherent oscillations, with wavelength and frequency matching those of the Holmboe waves, propagate horizontally in the EUC where the turbulent mixing by the horseshoe vortices occurs. The oscillations are able to transport momentum and energy from the mixed layer downward into the EUC. They do not overturn the isopycnals, however, and, though correlated in space and time with the turbulent bursts, are not directly responsible for their generation. These wavelike features and intermittent turbulent bursts are qualitatively similar to the near-N oscillations and the deep-cycle turbulence observed at the upper flank of the Pacific Equatorial Undercurrent.

Corresponding author address: Hieu T. Pham, Department of Mechanical and Aerospace Engineering, University of California, San Diego, 9500 Gilman Dr., La Jolla, CA 92092. E-mail: h8pham@ucsd.edu
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