Abstract

A large eddy simulation (LES) initialized and forced using observations is used to conduct a process study of ocean surface boundary layer (OSBL) turbulence in a 2 km box of ocean nominally under Hurricane Irene (2011) in 35 m of water on the New Jersey shelf. The LES captures the observed deepening, cooling, and persistent stratification of the OSBL as the storm approaches and passes. As the storm approaches, surface-intensified Ekman-layer rolls, with horizontal wavelengths of about 200 m and horizontal-to-vertical aspect and velocity variance ratios of about 20, dominate the kinetic energy and increase the turbulent Prandtl number from about 1 to 1.5 due partially to their restratifying vertical buoyancy flux. However, as the storm passes, these rolls are washed away in a few hours due to the rapid rotation of the wind. In the bulk OSBL, the gradient Richardson number of the mean profiles remains just above (just below) 1/4 as the storm approaches (passes). At the base of the OSBL, large-aspect-ratio Kelvin-Helmholtz billows, with Prandtl number below 1, intermittently dominate the kinetic energy. Overall, large-aspect-ratio covariance modifies the net vertical fluxes of buoyancy and momentum by about 10%, but these fluxes and the analogous diffusivity and viscosity still approximately collapse to time-independent dimensionless profiles, despite rapid changes in the forcing and the large structures. That is, the evolutions of the mean temperature and momentum profiles, which are driven by the net vertical flux convergences, mainly reflect the evolution of the wind and the initial ocean temperature profile.

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