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Internal Waves and Turbulence in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current

Stephanie WatermanNational Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom

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Alberto C. Naveira GarabatoNational Oceanography Centre, University of Southampton, Southampton, United Kingdom

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Kurt L. PolzinWoods Hole Oceanographic Institution, Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Abstract

This study reports on observations of turbulent dissipation and internal wave-scale flow properties in a standing meander of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) north of the Kerguelen Plateau. The authors characterize the intensity and spatial distribution of the observed turbulent dissipation and the derived turbulent mixing, and consider underpinning mechanisms in the context of the internal wave field and the processes governing the waves’ generation and evolution.

The turbulent dissipation rate and the derived diapycnal diffusivity are highly variable with systematic depth dependence. The dissipation rate is generally enhanced in the upper 1000–1500 m of the water column, and both the dissipation rate and diapycnal diffusivity are enhanced in some places near the seafloor, commonly in regions of rough topography and in the vicinity of strong bottom flows associated with the ACC jets. Turbulent dissipation is high in regions where internal wave energy is high, consistent with the idea that interior dissipation is related to a breaking internal wave field. Elevated turbulence occurs in association with downward-propagating near-inertial waves within 1–2 km of the surface, as well as with upward-propagating, relatively high-frequency waves within 1–2 km of the seafloor. While an interpretation of these near-bottom waves as lee waves generated by ACC jets flowing over small-scale topographic roughness is supported by the qualitative match between the spatial patterns in predicted lee wave radiation and observed near-bottom dissipation, the observed dissipation is found to be only a small percentage of the energy flux predicted by theory. The mismatch suggests an alternative fate to local dissipation for a significant fraction of the radiated energy.

Corresponding author address: Stephanie Waterman, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. E-mail: snw@alum.mit.edu

Abstract

This study reports on observations of turbulent dissipation and internal wave-scale flow properties in a standing meander of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) north of the Kerguelen Plateau. The authors characterize the intensity and spatial distribution of the observed turbulent dissipation and the derived turbulent mixing, and consider underpinning mechanisms in the context of the internal wave field and the processes governing the waves’ generation and evolution.

The turbulent dissipation rate and the derived diapycnal diffusivity are highly variable with systematic depth dependence. The dissipation rate is generally enhanced in the upper 1000–1500 m of the water column, and both the dissipation rate and diapycnal diffusivity are enhanced in some places near the seafloor, commonly in regions of rough topography and in the vicinity of strong bottom flows associated with the ACC jets. Turbulent dissipation is high in regions where internal wave energy is high, consistent with the idea that interior dissipation is related to a breaking internal wave field. Elevated turbulence occurs in association with downward-propagating near-inertial waves within 1–2 km of the surface, as well as with upward-propagating, relatively high-frequency waves within 1–2 km of the seafloor. While an interpretation of these near-bottom waves as lee waves generated by ACC jets flowing over small-scale topographic roughness is supported by the qualitative match between the spatial patterns in predicted lee wave radiation and observed near-bottom dissipation, the observed dissipation is found to be only a small percentage of the energy flux predicted by theory. The mismatch suggests an alternative fate to local dissipation for a significant fraction of the radiated energy.

Corresponding author address: Stephanie Waterman, Climate Change Research Centre, University of New South Wales, Sydney, NSW 2052, Australia. E-mail: snw@alum.mit.edu
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