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Ming Li
,
John Trowbridge
, and
Rocky Geyer

Abstract

Stratification and turbulent mixing exhibit a flood–ebb tidal asymmetry in estuaries and continental shelf regions affected by horizontal density gradients. The authors use a large-eddy simulation (LES) model to investigate the penetration of a tidally driven bottom boundary layer into stratified water in the presence of a horizontal density gradient. Turbulence in the bottom boundary layer is driven by bottom stress during flood tides, with low-gradient (Ri) and flux (Rf ) Richardson numbers, but by localized shear during ebb tides, with Ri = ¼ and Rf = 0.2 in the upper half of the boundary layer. If the water column is unstratified initially, the LES model reproduces periodic stratification associated with tidal straining. The model results show that the energetics criterion based on the competition between tidal straining and tidal stirring provides a good prediction for the onset of periodic stratification, but the tidally averaged horizontal Richardson number Ri x has a threshold value of about 0.2, which is lower than the 3 suggested in a recent study. Although the tidal straining leads to negative buoyancy flux on flood tides, the authors find that for typical values of the horizontal density gradient and tidal currents in estuaries and shelf regions, buoyancy production is much smaller than shear production in generating turbulent kinetic energy.

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Malcolm E. Scully
,
W. Rocky Geyer
, and
John H. Trowbridge

Abstract

Field observations of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE), dissipation rate ε, and turbulent length scale demonstrate the impact of both density stratification and nonlocal turbulent production on turbulent momentum flux. The data were collected in a highly stratified salt wedge estuary using the Mobile Array for Sensing Turbulence (MAST). Estimates of the dominant length scale of turbulent motions obtained from the vertical velocity spectra provide field confirmation of the theoretical limitation imposed by either the distance to the boundary or the Ozmidov scale, whichever is smaller. Under boundary-limited conditions, anisotropy generally increases with increasing shear and decreased distance to the boundary. Under Ozmidov-limited conditions, anisotropy increases rapidly when the gradient Richardson number exceeds 0.25. Both boundary-limited and Ozmidov-limited conditions demonstrate significant deviations from a local production–dissipation balance that are largely consistent with simple scaling relationships for the vertical divergence in TKE flux. Both the impact of stratification and deviation from equilibrium turbulence observed in the data are largely consistent with commonly used turbulence closure models that employ “nonequilibrium” stability functions. The data compare most favorably with the nonequilibrium version of the L. H. Kantha and C. A. Clayson stability functions. Not only is this approach more consistent with the observed critical gradient Richardson number of 0.25, but it also accounts for the large deviations from equilibrium turbulence in a manner consistent with the observations.

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