Surface gravity wave effects on currents (WEC) cause the emergence of Langmuir cells (LCs) in a suite of high horizontal resolution (Δx = 30 m), realistic oceanic simulations in the open ocean of central California. During large wave events, LCs develop widely but inhomogeneously, with larger vertical velocities in a deeper mixed layer. They interact with extant submesoscale currents. A 550-m horizontal spatial filter separates the signals of LCs and of submesoscale and larger-scale currents. The LCs have a strong velocity variance with small density gradient variance, while submesoscale currents are large in both. Using coarse graining, we show that WEC induces a forward cascade of kinetic energy in the upper ocean up to at least a 5-km scale. This is due to strong positive vertical Reynolds stress (in both the Eulerian and the Stokes drift energy production terms) at all resolved scales in the WEC solutions, associated with large vertical velocities. The spatial filter elucidates the role of LCs in generating the shear production on the vertical scale of Stokes drift (10 m), while submesoscale currents affect both the horizontal and vertical energy fluxes throughout the mixed layer (50–80 m). There is a slightly weaker forward cascade associated with nonhydrostatic LCs (by 13% in average) than in the hydrostatic case, but overall the simulation differences are small. A vertical mixing scheme K-profile parameterization (KPP) partially augmented by Langmuir turbulence yields wider LCs, which can lead to lower surface velocity gradients compared to solutions using the standard KPP scheme.
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