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Michael L. Banner, Wei Chen, Edward J. Walsh, Jorgen B. Jensen, Sunhee Lee, and Chris Fandry

Abstract

The Southern Ocean Waves Experiment (SOWEX) was an international collaborative air–sea interaction experiment in which a specially instrumented meteorological research aircraft simultaneously gathered atmospheric turbulence data in the marine boundary layer and sea surface topography data over the Southern Ocean for a wide range of wind speeds. The aim was to increase present knowledge of severe sea state air–sea interaction. This first paper presents an overview of the experiment and a detailed discussion of the methodology and mean results. A companion paper describes the findings on variability of the wind speed and wind stress and their relationship to variations in the underlying sea surface roughness.

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Wei Chen, Michael L. Banner, Edward J. Walsh, Jorgen B. Jensen, and Sunhee Lee

Abstract

The Southern Ocean Waves Experiment (SOWEX) was an international collaborative air–sea interaction experiment in which a specially instrumented meteorological research aircraft simultaneously gathered marine boundary-layer atmospheric turbulence data and sea surface roughness data over the Southern Ocean, particularly for gale-force wind conditions. In this paper analysis and findings are presented on key aspects of the coupled variability of the wind field, the wind stress, and the underlying sea surface roughness. This study complements the overview, methodology, and mean results published in Part I.

Weakly unstable atmospheric stratification conditions prevailed during SOWEX, with wind speeds ranging from gale force to light and variable. Throughout the SOWEX observational period, the wind field was dominated by large-scale atmospheric roll-cell structures, whose height scale was comparable with the thickness of the marine atmospheric boundary layer (MABL). Well above the sea surface, these coherent structures provide the dominant contribution to the downward momentum flux toward the sea surface. Closer to the sea surface, these organized large-scale structures continued to make significant contributions to the downward momentum flux, even within a few tens of meters of the sea surface.

At the minimum aircraft height, typical cumulative stress cospectra indicated that 10-km averages along crosswind tracks appeared adequate to close the stress cospectrum. Nevertheless, a large-scale spatial inhomogeneity in the wind stress vector was observed using 10- and 20-km spatial averaging intervals on one of the strongest wind days when the mean wind field was close to being spatially uniform. This indicates a departure from the familiar drag coefficient relationship and implies large-scale transverse modulations in the MABL with an effective horizontal to vertical aspect ratio of around 20.

A high visual correlation was found between mean wind speed variations and collocated sea-surface mean square slope (mss) variations, averaged over 1.9 km. A comparable plot of the 10-km running average of the downward momentum flux, observed at heights from 30 to 90 m, showed appreciably lower visual correlation with the wind speed variations and mss variations. The 10–20 km averaging distance needed to determine the wind stress was larger than the local scale of variation of the mss roughness variations. It also exceeded the scale of the striations often observed in synthetic aperture radar imagery under unstable atmospheric conditions and strong wind forcing. This highlights an overlooked intrinsic difficulty in using the friction velocity as the wind parameter in models of the wind wave spectrum, especially for the short wind wave scales.

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