Langmuir Turbulence and Surface Heating in the Ocean Surface Boundary Layer

Brodie C. Pearson University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Alan L. M. Grant University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Jeff A. Polton National Oceanography Centre, Liverpool, United Kingdom

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Stephen E. Belcher University of Reading, Reading, United Kingdom

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Abstract

This study uses large-eddy simulation to investigate the structure of the ocean surface boundary layer (OSBL) in the presence of Langmuir turbulence and stabilizing surface heat fluxes. The OSBL consists of a weakly stratified layer, despite a surface heat flux, above a stratified thermocline. The weakly stratified (mixed) layer is maintained by a combination of a turbulent heat flux produced by the wave-driven Stokes drift and downgradient turbulent diffusion. The scaling of turbulence statistics, such as dissipation and vertical velocity variance, is only affected by the surface heat flux through changes in the mixed layer depth. Diagnostic models are proposed for the equilibrium boundary layer and mixed layer depths in the presence of surface heating. The models are a function of the initial mixed layer depth before heating is imposed and the Langmuir stability length. In the presence of radiative heating, the models are extended to account for the depth profile of the heating.

Current affiliation: Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Corresponding author address: B. Pearson, Dept. of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Box 1846, 324 Brook Street, Providence, RI 02912. E-mail: brodie_pearson@brown.edu

Abstract

This study uses large-eddy simulation to investigate the structure of the ocean surface boundary layer (OSBL) in the presence of Langmuir turbulence and stabilizing surface heat fluxes. The OSBL consists of a weakly stratified layer, despite a surface heat flux, above a stratified thermocline. The weakly stratified (mixed) layer is maintained by a combination of a turbulent heat flux produced by the wave-driven Stokes drift and downgradient turbulent diffusion. The scaling of turbulence statistics, such as dissipation and vertical velocity variance, is only affected by the surface heat flux through changes in the mixed layer depth. Diagnostic models are proposed for the equilibrium boundary layer and mixed layer depths in the presence of surface heating. The models are a function of the initial mixed layer depth before heating is imposed and the Langmuir stability length. In the presence of radiative heating, the models are extended to account for the depth profile of the heating.

Current affiliation: Department of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Providence, Rhode Island.

Corresponding author address: B. Pearson, Dept. of Earth, Environmental and Planetary Sciences, Brown University, Box 1846, 324 Brook Street, Providence, RI 02912. E-mail: brodie_pearson@brown.edu
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