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J. R. Ledwell, L. C. St. Laurent, J. B. Girton, and J. M. Toole

Abstract

The vertical dispersion of a tracer released on a density surface near 1500-m depth in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current west of Drake Passage indicates that the diapycnal diffusivity, averaged over 1 yr and over tens of thousands of square kilometers, is (1.3 ± 0.2) × 10−5 m2 s−1. Diapycnal diffusivity estimated from turbulent kinetic energy dissipation measurements about the area occupied by the tracer in austral summer 2010 was somewhat less, but still within a factor of 2, at (0.75 ± 0.07) × 10−5 m2 s−1. Turbulent diapycnal mixing of this intensity is characteristic of the midlatitude ocean interior, where the energy for mixing is believed to derive from internal wave breaking. Indeed, despite the frequent and intense atmospheric forcing experienced by the Southern Ocean, the amplitude of finescale velocity shear sampled about the tracer was similar to background amplitudes in the midlatitude ocean, with levels elevated to only 20%–50% above the Garrett–Munk reference spectrum. These results add to a long line of evidence that diapycnal mixing in the interior middepth ocean is weak and is likely too small to dictate the middepth meridional overturning circulation of the ocean.

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A. M. Thurnherr, L. C. St. Laurent, K. G. Speer, J. M. Toole, and J. R. Ledwell

Abstract

To close the global overturning circulation, the production and sinking of dense water at high latitudes must be balanced elsewhere by buoyancy gain and upward vertical motion. Hydrographic and microstructure observations from the Brazil Basin in the South Atlantic Ocean indicate that most of the abyssal mixing there takes place on the topographically rough flank of the midocean ridge. In previous studies it has been suggested that the high level of abyssal mixing observed on the ridge flank is primarily caused by breaking internal waves forced by tidal currents. Here, the results from a detailed analysis of velocity, hydrographic, and microstructure data from a ridge-flank canyon are presented. Two-year-long current-meter records indicate that within the canyon there is a significant along-axial mean flow down the density gradient toward the ridge crest. Five hundred meters above the canyon floor the kinetic energy in the subinertial band exceeds that associated with the semidiurnal tides by approximately a factor of 2. The mean dissipation of kinetic energy inside the canyon exceeds that above the ridge-flank topography by approximately a factor of 5. The largest dissipation values were observed downstream of a narrow, 1000-m-high sill that extends across the full width of the canyon. Along the entire canyon, there is a strong association between the presence of sills and along-axial density gradients, while there is no similar association between the presence of depressions and density gradients. Together, these observations suggest that sill-related mixing contributes at least as much to the diapycnal buoyancy flux in the canyon as tidally forced internal-wave breaking, which is not expected to be associated preferentially with sills. While only ≈15% of the interfacial area between Antarctic Bottom Water and North Atlantic Deep Water in the Brazil Basin lie inside canyons, the available data suggest that approximately one-half of the diapycnal buoyancy fluxes take place there. In comparison, the region above the ridge-flank topography accounts for about one-third of the buoyancy fluxes. The apparent importance of sill-related processes for mixing in ridge-flank canyons is therefore of global significance, especially considering that such canyons occur on average every 50 km along 2/3 of the global midocean ridge system, and that sills partially block the canyon axes every few tens of kilometers.

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Miles A. Sundermeyer, James R. Ledwell, Neil S. Oakey, and Blair J. W. Greenan

Abstract

Evidence is presented that lateral dispersion on scales of 1–10 km in the stratified waters of the continental shelf may be significantly enhanced by stirring by small-scale geostrophic motions caused by patches of mixed fluid adjusting in the aftermath of diapycnal mixing events. Dye-release experiments conducted during the recent Coastal Mixing and Optics (CMO) experiment provide estimates of diapycnal and lateral dispersion. Microstructure observations made during these experiments showed patchy turbulence on vertical scales of 1–10 m and horizontal scales of a few hundred meters to a few kilometers. Momentum scaling and a simple random walk formulation were used to estimate the effective lateral dispersion caused by motions resulting from lateral adjustment following episodic mixing events. It is predicted that lateral dispersion is largest when the scale of mixed patches is on the order of the internal Rossby radius of deformation, which seems to have been the case for CMO. For parameter values relevant to CMO, lower-bound estimates of the effective lateral diffusivity by this mechanism ranged from 0.1 to 1 m2 s−1. Revised estimates after accounting for the possibility of long-lived motions were an order of magnitude larger and ranged from 1 to 10 m2 s−1. The predicted dispersion is large enough to explain the observed lateral dispersion in all four CMO dye-release experiments examined.

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M. A. Sundermeyer, E. A. Terray, J. R. Ledwell, A. G. Cunningham, P. E. LaRocque, J. Banic, and W. J. Lillycrop

Abstract

Results are presented from a pilot study using a fluorescent dye tracer imaged by airborne lidar in the ocean surface layer on spatial scales of meters to kilometers and temporal scales of minutes to hours. The lidar used here employs a scanning, frequency-doubled Nd:YAG laser to emit an infrared (1064 nm) and green (532 nm) pulse 6 ns in duration at a rate of 1 kHz. The received signal is split to infrared, green, and fluorescent (nominally 580–600 nm) channels, the latter two of which are used to compute absolute dye concentration as a function of depth and horizontal position. Comparison of dye concentrations inferred from the lidar with in situ fluorometry measurements made by ship shows good agreement both qualitatively and quantitatively for absolute dye concentrations ranging from 1 to >10 ppb. Uncertainties associated with horizontal variations in the natural seawater attenuation are approximately 1 ppb. The results demonstrate the ability of airborne lidar to capture high-resolution three-dimensional “snapshots” of the distribution of the tracer as it evolves over very short time and space scales. Such measurements offer a powerful observational tool for studies of transport and mixing on these scales.

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L. St. Laurent, A. C. Naveira Garabato, J. R. Ledwell, A. M. Thurnherr, J. M. Toole, and A. J. Watson

Abstract

Direct measurements of turbulence levels in the Drake Passage region of the Southern Ocean show a marked enhancement over the Phoenix Ridge. At this site, the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) is constricted in its flow between the southern tip of South America and the northern tip of the Antarctic Peninsula. Observed turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rates are enhanced in the regions corresponding to the ACC frontal zones where strong flow reaches the bottom. In these areas, turbulent dissipation levels reach 10−8 W kg−1 at abyssal and middepths. The mixing enhancement in the frontal regions is sufficient to elevate the diapycnal turbulent diffusivity acting in the deep water above the axis of the ridge to 1 × 10−4 m2 s−1. This level is an order of magnitude larger than the mixing levels observed upstream in the ACC above smoother bathymetry. Outside of the frontal regions, dissipation rates are O(10−10) W kg−1, comparable to the background levels of turbulence found throughout most mid- and low-latitude regions of the global ocean.

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Emma J. D. Boland, Emily Shuckburgh, Peter H. Haynes, James R. Ledwell, Marie-José Messias, and Andrew J. Watson

Abstract

The use of a measure to diagnose submesoscale isopycnal diffusivity by determining the best match between observations of a tracer and simulations with varying small-scale diffusivities is tested. Specifically, the robustness of a “roughness” measure to discriminate between tracer fields experiencing different submesoscale isopycnal diffusivities and advected by scaled altimetric velocity fields is investigated. This measure is used to compare numerical simulations of the tracer released at a depth of about 1.5 km in the Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean during the Diapycnal and Isopycnal Mixing Experiment in the Southern Ocean (DIMES) field campaign with observations of the tracer taken on DIMES cruises. The authors find that simulations with an isopycnal diffusivity of ~20 m2 s−1 best match observations in the Pacific sector of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC), rising to ~20–50 m2 s−1 through Drake Passage, representing submesoscale processes and any mesoscale processes unresolved by the advecting altimetry fields. The roughness measure is demonstrated to be a statistically robust way to estimate a small-scale diffusivity when measurements are relatively sparse in space and time, although it does not work if there are too few measurements overall. The planning of tracer measurements during a cruise in order to maximize the robustness of the roughness measure is also considered. It is found that the robustness is increased if the spatial resolution of tracer measurements is increased with the time since tracer release.

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