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Zhibin Yang, Zhao Jing, and Xiaoming Zhai

Abstract

Mesoscale eddies are ubiquitous dynamical features, accounting for over 90% of the total kinetic energy of the ocean. However, the pathway for eddy energy dissipation has not been fully understood. Here we investigate the effect of small-scale topography on eddy dissipation in the northern South China Sea by comparing high-resolution ocean simulations with smooth and synthetically generated rough topography. The presence of rough topography is found to 1) significantly enhance viscous dissipation and instabilities within a few hundred meters above the rough bottom, especially in the slope region, and 2) change the relative importance of energy dissipation by bottom frictional drag and interior viscosity. The role of lee wave generation in eddy energy dissipation is investigated using a Lagrangian filter method. About one-third of the enhanced viscous energy dissipation in the rough topography experiment is associated with lee wave energy dissipation, with the remaining two-thirds explained by nonwave energy dissipation, at least partly as a result of the nonpropagating form drag effect.

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Luc Rainville, Craig M. Lee, K. Arulananthan, S. U. P. Jinadasa, Harindra J. S. Fernando, W. N. C. Priyadarshani, and Hemantha Wijesekera

Abstract

We present high-resolution sustained, persistent observations of the ocean around Sri Lanka from autonomous gliders collected over several years, a region with complex, variable circulation patterns connecting the Bay of Bengal and the Arabian Sea to each other and the rest of the Indian Ocean. The Seaglider surveys resolve seasonal to interannual variability in vertical and horizontal structure, allowing quantification of volume, heat, and freshwater fluxes, as well as the transformations and transports of key water mass classes across sections normal to the east (2014–15) and south (2016–19) coasts of Sri Lanka. The resulting transports point to the importance of both surface and subsurface flows and show that the direct pathway along the Sri Lankan coast plays a significant role in the exchanges of waters between the Arabian Sea and the Bay of Bengal. Significant section-to-section variability highlights the need for sustained, long-term observations to quantify the circulation pathways and dynamics associated with exchange between the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea and provides context for interpreting observations collected as “snapshots” of more limited duration.

Significance Statement

The strong seasonal variations of the wind in the Indian Ocean create large and rapid changes in the ocean’s properties near Sri Lanka. This variable and poorly observed circulation is very important for how temperature and salinity are distributed across the northern Indian Ocean, both at the surface and at depths. Long-term and repeated surveys from autonomous Seagliders allow us to understand how freshwater inflow, atmospheric forcing, and underlying ocean variability act to produce observed contrasts (spatial and seasonal) in upper-ocean structure of the Bay of Bengal and Arabian Sea.

Open access
Martin Lazar, Maja Bubalo, and Josip Begić

Abstract

The paper investigates switches of circulation orientation in inland basins, either at the surface or near the bottom. The study is based on an analytical 2D model used to simulate thermohaline circulation in lakes and inland seas. The model allows different density profiles varying in both horizontal and vertical directions. By assuming some simplifications (such as steady state, vanishing of an alongshore variability, and flat bottom), we are able to obtain an explicit expression of the circulation in the central transverse section of an elongated basin. Starting from three typical density profiles (bottom dense water, surface light water, and a combination of the two), the model reveals different circulation types (cyclonic and anticyclonic surface circulation, either prevailing along the whole vertical column or accompanied by an opposite circulation in the bottom layer). In addition, we analyze the impact of friction coefficients and basin dimensions on the switch from one circulation type to another. The simplified assumptions turn out not to be limiting, as other studies have shown that they do not change the main flow characteristics. More importantly, the results obtained are in keeping with empirical findings, numerical simulations, and physical experiments studied elsewhere.

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Kathryn L. Gunn, K McMonigal, Lisa M. Beal, and Shane Elipot

Abstract

The global freshwater cycle is intensifying: wet regions are prone to more rainfall, while dry regions experience more drought. Indian Ocean rim countries are especially vulnerable to these changes, but its oceanic freshwater budget—which records the basinwide balance between evaporation, precipitation, and runoff—has only been quantified at three points in time (1987, 2002, 2009). Due to this paucity of observations and large model biases, we cannot yet be sure how the Indian Ocean’s freshwater cycle has responded to climate change, nor by how much it varies at seasonal and monthly time scales. To bridge this gap, we estimate the magnitude and variability of the Indian Ocean’s freshwater budget using monthly varying oceanic data from May 2016 through April 2018. Freshwater converged into the basin with a mean rate and standard error of 0.35 ± 0.07 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1), indicating that basinwide air–sea fluxes are net evaporative. This balance is maintained by salty waters leaving the basin via the Agulhas Current and fresher waters entering northward across the southern boundary and via the Indonesian Throughflow. For the first time, we quantify seasonal and monthly variability in Indian Ocean freshwater convergence to find amplitudes of 0.33 and 0.16 Sv, respectively, where monthly changes reflect variability in oceanic, rather than air–sea, fluxes. Compared with the range of previous estimates plus independent measurements from a reanalysis product, we conclude that the Indian Ocean has remained net evaporative since the 1980s, in contrast to long-term changes in its heat budget. When disentangling anthropogenic-driven changes, these observations of decadal and intra-annual natural variability should be taken into account.

Open access
Erin M. Broatch and Parker MacCready

Abstract

A salinity variance framework is used to study mixing in the Salish Sea, a large fjordal estuary. Output from a realistic numerical model is used to create salinity variance budgets for individual basins within the Salish Sea for 2017–19. The salinity variance budgets are used to quantify the mixing in each basin and estimate the numerical mixing, which is found to contribute about one-third of the total mixing in the model. Whidbey Basin has the most intense mixing, due to its shallow depth and large river flow. Unlike in most other estuarine systems previously studied using the salinity variance method, mixing in the Salish Sea is controlled by the river flow and does not exhibit a pronounced spring–neap cycle. A “mixedness” analysis is used to determine when mixed water is expelled from the estuary. The river flow is correlated with mixed water removal, but the coupling is not as tight as with the mixing. Because the mixing is so highly correlated with the river flow, the long-term average approximation M = Qrs out s in can be used to predict the mixing in the Salish Sea and Puget Sound with good accuracy, even without any temporal averaging. Over a 3-yr average, the mixing in Puget Sound is directly related to the exchange flow salt transport.

Open access
Lina Yang, Raghu Murtugudde, Shaojun Zheng, Peng Liang, Wei Tan, Lei Wang, Baoxin Feng, and Tianyu Zhang

Abstract

The tropical Pacific currents from January 2004 to December 2018 are computed based on the gridded Argo temperatures and salinities using the P-vector method on an f plane and the geostrophic approximation on a β plane. Three branches of the South Equatorial Current (SEC) are identified, i.e., SEC(N) (2°S–5°N), SEC(M) (7°–3°S), and SEC(S) (20°–8°S), with the maximum zonal velocity of −55 cm s−1 and total volume transport of −49.8 Sv (1 Sv ≡ 106 m3 s−1) occurring in the central-east Pacific. The seasonal variability of each branch shows a distinct and different westward propagation of zonal current anomalies, which are well mirrored by the SLA differences between 2°S and 5°N, between 3°S and 6°S, and between 8°S and 15°S, respectively. Most of the seasonal variations are successfully simulated by a simple analytical Rossby wave model, highlighting the significance of the first-mode baroclinic, linear Rossby waves, particularly those driven by the wind stress curl in the central-east Pacific. However, the linear theory fails to explain the SEC(M) variations in certain months in the central-east Pacific, where the first baroclinic mode contributes only around 50% of the explained variance to the equatorial surface currents. A nonlinear model involving higher baroclinic modes is suggested for a further diagnosis. Considering the crucial role played by the tropical Pacific in the natural climate variability via the El Niño–Southern Ocean dynamics and the ocean response to anthropogenic forcing via the ocean heat uptake in the eastern tropical Pacific, advancing the process understanding of the SEC from observations is critical.

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Laur Ferris, Donglai Gong, Carol Anne Clayson, Sophia Merrifield, Emily L. Shroyer, Madison Smith, and Louis St. Laurent

Abstract

The ocean surface boundary layer is a gateway of energy transfer into the ocean. Wind-driven shear and meteorologically forced convection inject turbulent kinetic energy into the surface boundary layer, mixing the upper ocean and transforming its density structure. In the absence of direct observations or the capability to resolve subgrid-scale 3D turbulence in operational ocean models, the oceanography community relies on surface boundary layer similarity scalings (BLS) of shear and convective turbulence to represent this mixing. Despite their importance, near-surface mixing processes (and ubiquitous BLS representations of these processes) have been undersampled in high-energy forcing regimes such as the Southern Ocean. With the maturing of autonomous sampling platforms, there is now an opportunity to collect high-resolution spatial and temporal measurements in the full range of forcing conditions. Here, we characterize near-surface turbulence under strong wind forcing using the first long-duration glider microstructure survey of the Southern Ocean. We leverage these data to show that the measured turbulence is significantly higher than standard shear-convective BLS in the shallower parts of the surface boundary layer and lower than standard shear-convective BLS in the deeper parts of the surface boundary layer; the latter of which is not easily explained by present wave-effect literature. Consistent with the CBLAST (Coupled Boundary Layers and Air Sea Transfer) low winds experiment, this bias has the largest magnitude and spread in the shallowest 10% of the actively mixing layer under low-wind and breaking wave conditions, when relatively low levels of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) in surface regime are easily biased by wave events.

Significance Statement

Wind blows across the ocean, turbulently mixing the water close to the surface and altering its properties. Without the ability to measure turbulence in remote locations, oceanographers use approximations called boundary layer scalings (BLS) to estimate the amount of turbulence caused by the wind. We compared turbulence measured by an underwater robot to turbulence estimated from wind speed to determine how well BLS performs in stormy places. We found that in both calm and stormy conditions, estimates are 10 times too large closest to the surface and 10 times too small deeper within the turbulently mixed surface ocean.

Open access
Andrew W. Smith, Brian K. Haus, and Rachel H. R. Stanley

Abstract

Bubbles directly link sea surface structure to the dissipation rate of turbulence in the ocean surface layer through wave breaking, and they are an important vehicle for air–sea transfer of heat and gases and important for understanding both hurricanes and global climate. Adequate parameterization of bubble dynamics, especially in high winds, requires simultaneous measurements of surface waves and breaking-induced turbulence; collection of such data would be hazardous in the field, and they are largely absent from laboratory studies to date. We therefore present data from a series of laboratory wind-wave tank experiments designed to observe bubble size distributions in natural seawater beneath hurricane conditions and connect them to surface wave statistics and subsurface turbulence. A shadowgraph imager was used to observe bubbles in three different water temperature conditions. We used these controlled conditions to examine the role of stability, surface tension, and water temperature on bubble distributions. Turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rates were determined from subsurface ADCP data using a robust inertial-subrange identification algorithm and related to wind input via wave-dependent scaling. Bubble distributions shift from narrow to broadbanded and toward smaller radius with increased wind input and wave steepness. TKE dissipation rate and shear were shown to increase with wave steepness; this behavior is associated with a larger number of small bubbles in the distributions, suggesting shear is dominant in forcing bubbles in hurricane wind-wave conditions. These results have important implications for bubble-facilitated air–sea exchanges, near-surface ocean mixing, and the distribution of turbulence beneath the air–sea interface in hurricanes.

Significance Statement

Bubbles are a vehicle for the flux of heat, momentum, and gases between the atmosphere and ocean. These fluxes contribute to the energy budgets of hurricanes, climate, and upper-ocean biology. Few to no simultaneous measurements of surface waves, bubbles, and turbulence have been made in hurricane conditions. To improve numerical model representation of bubbles, we performed laboratory experiments to parameterize bubble size distributions using physical variables including wind and waves. Bubble distributions were found to become broadbanded and shift toward smaller radius with increased wind stress and wave steepness. Turbulence dissipation rate and shear were shown to increase with wave steepness. Our results give the first physically based bubble distribution parameterization from naturally breaking waves in hurricane-force conditions.

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Ashwita Chouksey, Alexa Griesel, Manita Chouksey, and Carsten Eden

Abstract

We investigate changes in the ocean circulation due to the variation of isopycnal diffusivity (κ iso) in a global non-eddy-resolving model. Although isopycnal diffusion is thought to have minor effects on interior density gradients, the model circulation shows a surprisingly large sensitivity to the changes: with increasing κ iso, the strength of the Atlantic residual overturning circulation (AMOC) and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) transport weaken. At high latitudes, the isopycnal diffusion diffuses temperature and salinity upward and poleward, and at low latitudes downward close to the surface. Increasing isopycnal diffusivity increases the meridional isopycnal fluxes whose meridional gradient is equatorward, hence leading to a negative contribution to the flux divergence in the tracer equations and predominant cooling and freshening equatorward of 40°. The effect on temperature overcompensates the countering effect of salinity diffusion, such that the meridional density differences decrease, along with which ACC and AMOC decrease. We diagnose the adjustment process to the new equilibrium with increased isopycnal diffusion to assess how the other terms in the tracer equations react to the increased κ iso. It reveals that around ±40° latitude, the cooling induced by the increased isopycnal flux is only partly compensated by warming by advection, explaining the net cooling. Overall, the results emphasize the importance of isopycnal diffusion on ocean circulation and dynamics, and hence the necessity of its careful representation in models.

Significance Statement

The effect of mixing by mesoscale eddies, represented as diffusion along surfaces of constant density in models, on the ocean circulation is not well understood. Here, we show that an increase in the eddy diffusivity in different setups of a global ocean model leads to a surprisingly large change of the ocean circulation. The strength of the Atlantic overturning circulation and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current decrease. We find that the interior ocean becomes cooler and fresher and that the temperature effect on density dominates over salinity, resulting in a decrease in the density gradients. Our results point out the importance of eddy diffusion on ocean circulation, and hence the necessity of its correct representation in ocean and climate models.

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Gabin H. Urbancic, Kevin G. Lamb, Ilker Fer, and Laurie Padman

Abstract

The propagation of internal waves (IWs) of tidal frequency is inhibited poleward of the critical latitude, where the tidal frequency is equal to the Coriolis frequency (f). These subinertial IWs may propagate in the presence of background vorticity, which can reduce rotational effects. Additionally, for strong tidal currents, the isopycnal displacements may evolve into internal solitary waves (ISWs). In this study, wave generation by the subinertial K1 and M2 tides over the Yermak Plateau (YP) is modeled to understand the linear response and the conditions necessary for the generation of ISWs. The YP stretches out into Fram Strait, a gateway into the Arctic Ocean for warm Atlantic-origin waters. We consider the K1 tide for a wide range of tidal amplitudes to understand the IW generation for different forcing. For weak tidal currents, the baroclinic response is predominantly at the second harmonic due to critical slopes. For sufficiently strong diurnal currents, ISWs are generated and their generation is not sensitive to the range of f and stratifications considered. The M2 tide is subinertial yet the response shows propagating IW beams with frequency just over f. We discuss the propagation of these waves and the influence of variations of f, as a proxy for variations in the background vorticity, on the energy conversion to IWs. An improved understanding of tidal dynamics and IW generation at high latitudes is needed to quantify the magnitude and distribution of turbulent mixing, and its consequences for the changes in ocean circulation, heat content, and sea ice cover in the Arctic Ocean.

Open access