Middepth Recipes

Mason Rogers aMassachusetts Institute of Technology–Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution Joint Program in Oceanography/Applied Ocean Science and Engineering, Cambridge and Woods Hole, Massachusetts

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Raffaele Ferrari bMassachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Louis-Philippe Nadeau cInstitut des Sciences de la Mer de Rimouski, Rimouski, Quebec

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Abstract

The Indo-Pacific Ocean appears exponentially stratified between 1- and 3-km depth with a decay scale on the order of 1 km. In his celebrated paper “Abyssal recipes,” W. Munk proposed a theoretical explanation of these observations by suggesting a pointwise buoyancy balance between the upwelling of cold water and the downward diffusion of heat. Assuming a constant upwelling velocity w and turbulent diffusivity κ, the model yields an exponential stratification whose decay scale is consistent with observations if κ ∼ 10−4 m2 s−1. Over time, much effort has been made to reconcile Munk’s ideas with evidence of vertical variability in κ, but comparably little emphasis has been placed on the even stronger evidence that w decays toward the surface. In particular, the basin-averaged w nearly vanishes at 1-km depth in the Indo-Pacific. In light of this evidence, we consider a variable-coefficient, basin-averaged analog of Munk’s budget, which we verify against a hierarchy of numerical models ranging from an idealized basin-and-channel configuration to a coarse global ocean simulation. Study of the budget reveals that the decay of basin-averaged w requires a concurrent decay in basin-averaged κ to produce an exponential-like stratification. As such, the frequently cited value of 10−4 m2 s−1 is representative only of the bottom of the middepths, whereas κ must be much smaller above. The decay of mixing in the vertical is as important to the stratification as its magnitude.

Significance Statement

Using a combination of theory and numerical simulations, it is argued that the observed magnitude and shape of the global ocean stratification and overturning circulation appear to demand that turbulent mixing increases quasi-exponentially toward the ocean bottom. Climate models must therefore prescribe such a vertical profile of turbulent mixing in order to properly represent the heat and carbon uptake accomplished by the global overturning circulation on centennial and longer time scales.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Mason Rogers, masonr@mit.edu

Abstract

The Indo-Pacific Ocean appears exponentially stratified between 1- and 3-km depth with a decay scale on the order of 1 km. In his celebrated paper “Abyssal recipes,” W. Munk proposed a theoretical explanation of these observations by suggesting a pointwise buoyancy balance between the upwelling of cold water and the downward diffusion of heat. Assuming a constant upwelling velocity w and turbulent diffusivity κ, the model yields an exponential stratification whose decay scale is consistent with observations if κ ∼ 10−4 m2 s−1. Over time, much effort has been made to reconcile Munk’s ideas with evidence of vertical variability in κ, but comparably little emphasis has been placed on the even stronger evidence that w decays toward the surface. In particular, the basin-averaged w nearly vanishes at 1-km depth in the Indo-Pacific. In light of this evidence, we consider a variable-coefficient, basin-averaged analog of Munk’s budget, which we verify against a hierarchy of numerical models ranging from an idealized basin-and-channel configuration to a coarse global ocean simulation. Study of the budget reveals that the decay of basin-averaged w requires a concurrent decay in basin-averaged κ to produce an exponential-like stratification. As such, the frequently cited value of 10−4 m2 s−1 is representative only of the bottom of the middepths, whereas κ must be much smaller above. The decay of mixing in the vertical is as important to the stratification as its magnitude.

Significance Statement

Using a combination of theory and numerical simulations, it is argued that the observed magnitude and shape of the global ocean stratification and overturning circulation appear to demand that turbulent mixing increases quasi-exponentially toward the ocean bottom. Climate models must therefore prescribe such a vertical profile of turbulent mixing in order to properly represent the heat and carbon uptake accomplished by the global overturning circulation on centennial and longer time scales.

© 2023 American Meteorological Society. This published article is licensed under the terms of the default AMS reuse license. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Mason Rogers, masonr@mit.edu
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