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Hemantha W. Wijesekera, Joel C. Wesson, David W. Wang, William J. Teague, and Z. R. Hallock

Abstract

Turbulent mixing adjacent to the Velasco Reef and Kyushu–Palau Ridge, off northern Palau in the western equatorial Pacific Ocean, is examined using shipboard and moored observations. The study focuses on a 9-day-long, ship-based microstructure and velocity survey, conducted in November–December 2016. Several sections (9–15 km in length) of microstructure, hydrographic, and velocity fields were acquired over and around the reef, where water depths ranged from 50 to 3000 m. Microstructure profiles were collected while steaming slowly either toward or away from the reef, and underway current surveys were conducted along quasi-rectangular boxes with side lengths of 5–10 km. Near the reef, both tidal and subtidal motions were important, while subtidal motions were stronger away from the reef. Vertical shears of currents and mixing were stronger on the northern and eastern flanks of the reef than on the western flanks. High turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rates, 10−6–10−4 W kg−1, and large values of eddy diffusivities, 10−4–10−2 m2 s−1, with strong turbulent heat fluxes, 100–500 W m−2, were found. Currents flowing along the eastern side separated at the northern tip of the reef and generated submesoscale cyclonic vorticity of about 2–4 times the planetary vorticity. The analysis suggests that a torque, imparted by the turbulent bottom stress, generated the cyclonic vorticity at the northern boundary. The northern reef is associated with high vertical transports resulting from both submesoscale flow convergences and energetic mixing. Even though the area around Palau represents a small footprint of the ocean, vertical velocities and mixing rates are several orders magnitude larger than in the open ocean.

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