Evaluating Monin-Obukhov Scaling in the Unstable Oceanic Surface Layer

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  • 1 Applied Physics Laboratory, and School of Oceanography, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Monin-Obukhov Similarity Theory (MOST) provides important scaling laws for flow properties in the surface layer of the atmosphere and has contributed to most of our understanding of the near-surface turbulence. The prediction of near-surface vertical mixing in most operational ocean models is largely built upon this theory. However, the validity of MOST in the upper ocean is questionable due to the demonstrated importance of surface waves in the region. Here we examine the validity of MOST in the statically unstable oceanic surface layer, using data collected from two open ocean sites with different wave conditions. The observed vertical temperature gradients are found to be about half of those predicted by MOST. We hypothesize this is attributable to either the breaking of surface waves, or Langmuir turbulence generated by the wave-current interaction. Existing turbulence closure models for surface wave breaking and for Langmuir turbulence are simplified to test these two hypotheses. Although both models predict reduced temperature gradients, the simplified Langmuir turbulence model matches observations more closely, when appropriately tuned.

Corresponding author: Zhihua Zheng, zhihua@uw.edu

Abstract

Monin-Obukhov Similarity Theory (MOST) provides important scaling laws for flow properties in the surface layer of the atmosphere and has contributed to most of our understanding of the near-surface turbulence. The prediction of near-surface vertical mixing in most operational ocean models is largely built upon this theory. However, the validity of MOST in the upper ocean is questionable due to the demonstrated importance of surface waves in the region. Here we examine the validity of MOST in the statically unstable oceanic surface layer, using data collected from two open ocean sites with different wave conditions. The observed vertical temperature gradients are found to be about half of those predicted by MOST. We hypothesize this is attributable to either the breaking of surface waves, or Langmuir turbulence generated by the wave-current interaction. Existing turbulence closure models for surface wave breaking and for Langmuir turbulence are simplified to test these two hypotheses. Although both models predict reduced temperature gradients, the simplified Langmuir turbulence model matches observations more closely, when appropriately tuned.

Corresponding author: Zhihua Zheng, zhihua@uw.edu
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