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Miles A. Sundermeyer, Daniel A. Birch, James R. Ledwell, Murray D. Levine, Stephen D. Pierce, and Brandy T. Kuebel Cervantes

Abstract

Results are presented from two dye release experiments conducted in the seasonal thermocline of the Sargasso Sea, one in a region of low horizontal strain rate (~10−6 s−1), the second in a region of intermediate horizontal strain rate (~10−5 s−1). Both experiments lasted ~6 days, covering spatial scales of 1–10 and 1–50 km for the low and intermediate strain rate regimes, respectively. Diapycnal diffusivities estimated from the two experiments were κ z = (2–5) × 10−6 m2 s−1, while isopycnal diffusivities were κ H = (0.2–3) m2 s−1, with the range in κ H being less a reflection of site-to-site variability, and more due to uncertainties in the background strain rate acting on the patch combined with uncertain time dependence. The Site I (low strain) experiment exhibited minimal stretching, elongating to approximately 10 km over 6 days while maintaining a width of ~5 km, and with a notable vertical tilt in the meridional direction. By contrast, the Site II (intermediate strain) experiment exhibited significant stretching, elongating to more than 50 km in length and advecting more than 150 km while still maintaining a width of order 3–5 km. Early surveys from both experiments showed patchy distributions indicative of small-scale stirring at scales of order a few hundred meters. Later surveys show relatively smooth, coherent distributions with only occasional patchiness, suggestive of a diffusive rather than stirring process at the scales of the now larger patches. Together the two experiments provide important clues as to the rates and underlying processes driving diapycnal and isopycnal mixing at these scales.

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Andrey Y. Shcherbina, Miles A. Sundermeyer, Eric Kunze, Eric D’Asaro, Gualtiero Badin, Daniel Birch, Anne-Marie E. G. Brunner-Suzuki, Jörn Callies, Brandy T. Kuebel Cervantes, Mariona Claret, Brian Concannon, Jeffrey Early, Raffaele Ferrari, Louis Goodman, Ramsey R. Harcourt, Jody M. Klymak, Craig M. Lee, M.-Pascale Lelong, Murray D. Levine, Ren-Chieh Lien, Amala Mahadevan, James C. McWilliams, M. Jeroen Molemaker, Sonaljit Mukherjee, Jonathan D. Nash, Tamay Özgökmen, Stephen D. Pierce, Sanjiv Ramachandran, Roger M. Samelson, Thomas B. Sanford, R. Kipp Shearman, Eric D. Skyllingstad, K. Shafer Smith, Amit Tandon, John R. Taylor, Eugene A. Terray, Leif N. Thomas, and James R. Ledwell

Abstract

Lateral stirring is a basic oceanographic phenomenon affecting the distribution of physical, chemical, and biological fields. Eddy stirring at scales on the order of 100 km (the mesoscale) is fairly well understood and explicitly represented in modern eddy-resolving numerical models of global ocean circulation. The same cannot be said for smaller-scale stirring processes. Here, the authors describe a major oceanographic field experiment aimed at observing and understanding the processes responsible for stirring at scales of 0.1–10 km. Stirring processes of varying intensity were studied in the Sargasso Sea eddy field approximately 250 km southeast of Cape Hatteras. Lateral variability of water-mass properties, the distribution of microscale turbulence, and the evolution of several patches of inert dye were studied with an array of shipboard, autonomous, and airborne instruments. Observations were made at two sites, characterized by weak and moderate background mesoscale straining, to contrast different regimes of lateral stirring. Analyses to date suggest that, in both cases, the lateral dispersion of natural and deliberately released tracers was O(1) m2 s–1 as found elsewhere, which is faster than might be expected from traditional shear dispersion by persistent mesoscale flow and linear internal waves. These findings point to the possible importance of kilometer-scale stirring by submesoscale eddies and nonlinear internal-wave processes or the need to modify the traditional shear-dispersion paradigm to include higher-order effects. A unique aspect of the Scalable Lateral Mixing and Coherent Turbulence (LatMix) field experiment is the combination of direct measurements of dye dispersion with the concurrent multiscale hydrographic and turbulence observations, enabling evaluation of the underlying mechanisms responsible for the observed dispersion at a new level.

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