Patterns, Transport, and Anisotropy of Salt Fingers in Shear

Justin M. Brown aNaval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California

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Timour Radko aNaval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California

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Abstract

Through an expansive series of simulations, we investigate the effects of spatially uniform shear on the transport, structure, and dynamics of salt fingers. The simulations reveal that shear adversely affects the heat and salt fluxes of the system, reducing them by up to an order of magnitude. We characterize this in detail across a broad range of Richardson numbers and density ratios. We demonstrate that the density ratio is strongly related to the amount of shear required to disrupt fingers, with larger density ratio systems being more susceptible to disruption. An empirical relationship is proposed that captures this behavior that could be implemented into global ocean models. The results of these simulations accurately reproduce the microstructure measurements from North Atlantic Tracer Release Experiment (NATRE) observations. This work suggests that typical salt finger fluxes in the ocean will likely be a factor of 2–3 less than predicted by models not taking the effects of shear on double-diffusive systems into account.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this work is to measure how large-scale (>1 m) motion affects specific small-scale (∼1 cm) mixing in the ocean. We approach this topic using simulations of meter-scale boxes of fluid containing both temperature and salt concentration with an applied background flow. We measure how this background flow changes the mixing of temperature and salt as the strength of the applied flow increases. We find that current estimates may overpredict mixing at this scale throughout the World Ocean by about a factor of 2–3, on average. This could have consequences for estimates of climate in addition to heat, salt, nutrient, and pollutant transport.

For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Justin M. Brown, jmbrown2@nps.edu

Abstract

Through an expansive series of simulations, we investigate the effects of spatially uniform shear on the transport, structure, and dynamics of salt fingers. The simulations reveal that shear adversely affects the heat and salt fluxes of the system, reducing them by up to an order of magnitude. We characterize this in detail across a broad range of Richardson numbers and density ratios. We demonstrate that the density ratio is strongly related to the amount of shear required to disrupt fingers, with larger density ratio systems being more susceptible to disruption. An empirical relationship is proposed that captures this behavior that could be implemented into global ocean models. The results of these simulations accurately reproduce the microstructure measurements from North Atlantic Tracer Release Experiment (NATRE) observations. This work suggests that typical salt finger fluxes in the ocean will likely be a factor of 2–3 less than predicted by models not taking the effects of shear on double-diffusive systems into account.

Significance Statement

The purpose of this work is to measure how large-scale (>1 m) motion affects specific small-scale (∼1 cm) mixing in the ocean. We approach this topic using simulations of meter-scale boxes of fluid containing both temperature and salt concentration with an applied background flow. We measure how this background flow changes the mixing of temperature and salt as the strength of the applied flow increases. We find that current estimates may overpredict mixing at this scale throughout the World Ocean by about a factor of 2–3, on average. This could have consequences for estimates of climate in addition to heat, salt, nutrient, and pollutant transport.

For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Justin M. Brown, jmbrown2@nps.edu
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