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Daniel B. Whitt and John R. Taylor

Abstract

Atmospheric storms are an important driver of changes in upper-ocean stratification and small-scale (1–100 m) turbulence. Yet, the modifying effects of submesoscale (0.1–10 km) motions in the ocean mixed layer on stratification and small-scale turbulence during a storm are not well understood. Here, large-eddy simulations are used to study the coupled response of submesoscale and small-scale turbulence to the passage of an idealized autumn storm, with a wind stress representative of a storm observed in the North Atlantic above the Porcupine Abyssal Plain. Because of a relatively shallow mixed layer and a strong downfront wind, existing scaling theory predicts that submesoscales should be unable to restratify the mixed layer during the storm. In contrast, the simulations reveal a persistent and strong mean stratification in the mixed layer both during and after the storm. In addition, the mean dissipation rate remains elevated throughout the mixed layer during the storm, despite the strong mean stratification. These results are attributed to strong spatial variability in stratification and small-scale turbulence at the submesoscale and have important implications for sampling and modeling submesoscales and their effects on stratification and turbulence in the upper ocean.

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Daniel B. Whitt and John R. Taylor
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