Abstract

The scale-dependent variance of tracer properties in the ocean bears the imprint of the oceanic eddy field. Anomalies in spice (which combines anomalies in temperature T and salinity S on isopycnal surfaces) act as passive tracers beneath the surface mixed layer (ML). We present an analysis of spice distributions along isopycnals in the upper 200 m of the ocean, calculated with over 9000 vertical profiles of T and S measured along ~4800 km of ship tracks in the Bay of Bengal. The data are from three separate research cruises—in the winter monsoon season of 2013 and in the late and early summer monsoon seasons of 2015 and 2018. We present a spectral analysis of horizontal tracer variance statistics on scales ranging from the submesoscale (~1 km) to the mesoscale (~100 km). Isopycnal layers that are closer to the ML-base exhibit redder spectra of tracer variance at scales 10 km than is predicted by theories of quasigeostrophic turbulence or frontogenesis. Two plausible explanations are postulated. The first is that stirring by submesoscale motions and shear dispersion by near-inertial waves enhance effective horizontal mixing and deplete tracer variance at horizontal scales 10 km in this region. The second is that the spice anomalies are coherent with dynamical properties such as potential vorticity, and not interpretable as passively stirred.

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