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Kirsty E. Hanley and Stephen E. Belcher


The interaction between ocean surface waves and the overlying wind leads to a transfer of momentum across the air–sea interface. Atmospheric and oceanic models typically allow for momentum transfer to be directed only downward, from the atmosphere to the ocean. Recent observations have suggested that momentum can also be transferred upward when long wavelength waves, characteristic of remotely generated swell, propagate faster than the wind speed. The effect of upward momentum transfer on the marine atmospheric boundary layer is investigated here using idealized models that solve the momentum budget above the ocean surface. A variant of the classical Ekman model that accounts for the wave-induced stress demonstrates that, although the momentum flux due to the waves penetrates only a small fraction of the depth of the boundary layer, the wind profile is profoundly changed through its whole depth. When the upward momentum transfer from surface waves sufficiently exceeds the downward turbulent momentum flux, then the near-surface wind accelerates, resulting in a low-level wave-driven wind jet. This increases the Coriolis force in the boundary layer, and so the wind turns in the opposite direction to the classical Ekman layer. Calculations of the wave-induced stress due to a wave spectrum representative of fast-moving swell demonstrate upward momentum transfer that is dominated by contributions from waves in the vicinity of the peak in the swell spectrum. This is in contrast to wind-driven waves whose wave-induced stress is dominated by very short wavelength waves. Hence the role of swell can be characterized by the inverse wave age based on the wave phase speed corresponding to the peak in the spectrum. For a spectrum of waves, the total momentum flux is found to reverse sign and become upward, from waves to wind, when the inverse wave age drops below the range 0.15–0.2, which agrees reasonably well with previously published oceanic observations.

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Il-Ju Moon, Tetsu Hara, Isaac Ginis, Stephen E. Belcher, and Hendrik L. Tolman


The effect of surface waves on air–sea momentum exchange over mature and growing seas is investigated by combining ocean wave models and a wave boundary layer model. The combined model estimates the wind stress by explicitly calculating the wave-induced stress. In the frequency range near the spectral peak, the NOAA/ NCEP surface wave model WAVEWATCH-III is used to estimate the spectra, while the spectra in the equilibrium range are determined by an analytical model. This approach allows for the estimation of the drag coefficient and the equivalent surface roughness for any surface wave fields. Numerical experiments are performed for constant winds from 10 to 45 m s−1 to investigate the effect of mature and growing seas on air–sea momentum exchange. For mature seas, the Charnock coefficient is estimated to be about 0.01 ∼ 0.02 and the drag coefficient increases as wind speed increases, both of which are within the range of previous observational data. With growing seas, results for winds less than 30 m s−1 show that the drag coefficient is larger for younger seas, which is consistent with earlier studies. For winds higher than 30 m s−1, however, results show a different trend; that is, very young waves yield less drag. This is because the wave-induced stress due to very young waves makes a small contribution to the total wind stress in very high wind conditions.

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