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Eddy-Modulated Internal Waves and Mixing on a Midocean Ridge

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  • 1 Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, New York
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Abstract

Mesoscale eddies are ubiquitous in the World Ocean and dominate the energy content on subinertial time scales. Recent theoretical and numerical studies suggest a connection between mesoscale eddies and diapycnal mixing in the deep ocean, especially near rough topography in regions of strong geostrophic flow. However, unambiguous observational evidence for such a connection has not yet been found, and it is still unclear what physical processes are responsible for transferring energy from mesoscale to small-scale processes. Here, the authors present observations demonstrating that finescale variability near the crest of the East Pacific Rise is strongly modulated by low-frequency geostrophic flows, including those due to mesoscale eddies. During times of strong subinertial flows, the authors observed elevated kinetic energy on vertical scales <50 m and in the near-inertial band, predominantly upward-propagating near-inertial waves, and increased incidence of layers with Richardson number . In contrast, during times of weak subinertial flows, kinetic energy in the finescale and near-inertial bands is lower, Ri values are higher, and near-inertial waves propagate predominantly downward through the water column. Diapycnal diffusivities estimated indirectly from a simple Ri-based parameterization are consistent with results from a tracer-release experiment and a microstructure survey bracketing the mooring measurements. These observations are consistent with energy transfer (a “cascade”) from subinertial flows, including mesoscale eddies, to near-inertial oscillations, turbulence, and mixing. This interpretation suggests that, in addition to topographic roughness and tidal forcing, parameterization of deep-ocean mixing should also take subinertial flows into account. The findings presented here are expected to be useful for validating and improving numerical-model parameterizations of turbulence and mixing in the ocean.

Corresponding author address: Xinfeng Liang, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964. E-mail: xliang@ldeo.columbia.edu

Abstract

Mesoscale eddies are ubiquitous in the World Ocean and dominate the energy content on subinertial time scales. Recent theoretical and numerical studies suggest a connection between mesoscale eddies and diapycnal mixing in the deep ocean, especially near rough topography in regions of strong geostrophic flow. However, unambiguous observational evidence for such a connection has not yet been found, and it is still unclear what physical processes are responsible for transferring energy from mesoscale to small-scale processes. Here, the authors present observations demonstrating that finescale variability near the crest of the East Pacific Rise is strongly modulated by low-frequency geostrophic flows, including those due to mesoscale eddies. During times of strong subinertial flows, the authors observed elevated kinetic energy on vertical scales <50 m and in the near-inertial band, predominantly upward-propagating near-inertial waves, and increased incidence of layers with Richardson number . In contrast, during times of weak subinertial flows, kinetic energy in the finescale and near-inertial bands is lower, Ri values are higher, and near-inertial waves propagate predominantly downward through the water column. Diapycnal diffusivities estimated indirectly from a simple Ri-based parameterization are consistent with results from a tracer-release experiment and a microstructure survey bracketing the mooring measurements. These observations are consistent with energy transfer (a “cascade”) from subinertial flows, including mesoscale eddies, to near-inertial oscillations, turbulence, and mixing. This interpretation suggests that, in addition to topographic roughness and tidal forcing, parameterization of deep-ocean mixing should also take subinertial flows into account. The findings presented here are expected to be useful for validating and improving numerical-model parameterizations of turbulence and mixing in the ocean.

Corresponding author address: Xinfeng Liang, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Columbia University, Palisades, NY 10964. E-mail: xliang@ldeo.columbia.edu
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