Diffusive Staircases in Shear: Dynamics and Heat Transport

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  • 1 Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey, California
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Abstract

Arctic staircases mediate the heat transport from the warm water of Atlantic origin to the cooler waters of the Arctic mixed layer. For this reason, staircases have received much due attention from the community, and their heat transport has been well characterized for systems in the absence of external forcing. However, the ocean is a dynamic environment with large-scale currents and internal waves being omnipresent, even in regions shielded by sea-ice. Thus, we have attempted to address the effects of background shear on fully developed staircases using numerical simulations. The code, which is pseudo-spectral, evolves the governing equations for a Boussinesq fluid with temperature and salinity in a shearing coordinate system. We find that—– unlike many other double-diffusive systems—the sheared staircase requires three-dimensional simulations to properly capture the dynamics. Our simulations predict shear patterns that are consistent with observations and show that staircases in the presence of external shear should be expected to transport heat and salt at least twice as efficiently as in the corresponding non-sheared systems. These findings may lead to critical improvements in the representation of micro-scale mixing in global climate models.

Corresponding author address: Justin M. Brown, E-mail: jmbrown2@nps.edu

Abstract

Arctic staircases mediate the heat transport from the warm water of Atlantic origin to the cooler waters of the Arctic mixed layer. For this reason, staircases have received much due attention from the community, and their heat transport has been well characterized for systems in the absence of external forcing. However, the ocean is a dynamic environment with large-scale currents and internal waves being omnipresent, even in regions shielded by sea-ice. Thus, we have attempted to address the effects of background shear on fully developed staircases using numerical simulations. The code, which is pseudo-spectral, evolves the governing equations for a Boussinesq fluid with temperature and salinity in a shearing coordinate system. We find that—– unlike many other double-diffusive systems—the sheared staircase requires three-dimensional simulations to properly capture the dynamics. Our simulations predict shear patterns that are consistent with observations and show that staircases in the presence of external shear should be expected to transport heat and salt at least twice as efficiently as in the corresponding non-sheared systems. These findings may lead to critical improvements in the representation of micro-scale mixing in global climate models.

Corresponding author address: Justin M. Brown, E-mail: jmbrown2@nps.edu
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