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Eric Kunze and Miles A. Sundermeyer

Abstract

This paper revisits a long-standing discrepancy between (i) 1–5-km isopycnal diffusivities of O(1) m2 s−1 based on dye spreading and (ii) inferences of O(0.1) m2 s−1 from internal-wave shear dispersion Kh ~ 〈Kz〉〈〉/f2 in several studies in the stratified ocean interior, where 〈Kz〉 is the bulk average diapycnal diffusivity, 〈〉 the finescale shear variance, and f the Coriolis frequency. It is shown that, taking into account (i) the intermittency of shear-driven turbulence, (ii) its lognormality, and (iii) its correlation with unstable finescale near-inertial shear, internal-wave shear dispersion cannot necessarily be discounted based on available information. This result depends on an infrequent occurrence of turbulence bursts, as is observed, and a correlation between diapycnal diffusivity Kz and the off-diagonal vertical strain, or the vertical gradient of horizontal displacement, |χz| = |∫Vz dt|, which is not well known and may vary from region to region. Taking these factors into account, there may be no need to invoke additional submesoscale mixing mechanisms such as vortical-mode stirring or internal-wave Stokes drift to explain the previously reported discrepancies.

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Miles A. Sundermeyer and M-Pascale Lelong

Abstract

In this second of two companion papers, numerical simulations of lateral dispersion by small-scale geostrophic motions, or vortical modes, generated by the adjustment of mixed patches following diapycnal mixing events are examined. A three-dimensional model was used to solve the Navier–Stokes equations and an advection/diffusion equation for a passive tracer. Model results were compared with theoretical predictions for vortical mode stirring with results from dye release experiments conducted over the New England continental shelf. For “weakly nonlinear” cases in which adjustment events were isolated in space and time, lateral dispersion in the model was consistent to within a constant scale factor with the parameter dependence
i1520-0485-35-12-2368-eq1
predicted by Sundermeyer et al., where h and L are the vertical and horizontal scales of the mixed patches, ΔN2 is the change in stratification associated with the mixed patches, f is the Coriolis parameter, ϕ is the frequency of diapycnal mixing events, and νB is the background viscosity. The associated scale factor, assumed to be of order 1, had an actual value of about 7, although this value will depend, in an unknown way, on the assumed horizontal scale of the mixed patches, which was here held constant at close to the deformation radius. A second more energetic parameter regime was also identified in which vortical mode stirring became strongly nonlinear and the effective lateral dispersion was larger. Estimates of the relevant parameters over the New England shelf suggest that this strongly nonlinear regime is more relevant to the real ocean than the weakly nonlinear regime, at least under late summer conditions. This suggests that stirring by small-scale geostrophic motion may, under certain conditions, contribute significantly to lateral dispersion on scales of 1–10 km in the ocean.
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M-Pascale Lelong and Miles A. Sundermeyer

Abstract

In this first of two companion papers, the time-dependent relaxation of an isolated diapycnal mixing event is examined in detail by means of numerical simulations, with an emphasis on the energy budget, particle displacements, and their implications for submesoscale oceanic lateral dispersion. The adjustment and dispersion characteristics are examined as a function of the lateral extent of the event L relative to the Rossby radius of deformation R. The strongest circulations and horizontal displacements occur in the regime R/LO(1). For short times, less than an inertial period, horizontal displacements are radial. Once the adjustment is completed, displacements become primarily azimuthal and continue to stir fluid over several to tens of inertial periods. The cumulative effect of many such events in terms of the effective lateral dispersion that they induce is examined in the companion paper.

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Grant A. Stuart, Miles A. Sundermeyer, and Dave Hebert

Abstract

Geostrophic adjustment of an isolated axisymmetric lens was examined to better understand the dependence of radial displacements and the adjusted velocity on the Burger number and the geometry of initial conditions. The behavior of the adjustment was examined using laboratory experiments and numerical simulations, which were in turn compared to published analytical solutions. Three defining length scales of the initial conditions were used to distinguish between various asymptotic behaviors for large and small Burger numbers: the Rossby radius of deformation, the horizontal length scale of the initial density defect, and the horizontal length scale of the initial pressure gradient. Numerical simulations for the fully nonlinear time-dependent adjustment agreed both qualitatively and quantitatively with analogous analytical solutions. For large Burger numbers, similar agreement was found in laboratory experiments. Results show that a broad range of final states can result from different initial geometries, depending on the values of the relevant length scales and the Burger number computed from initial conditions. For Burger numbers much larger or smaller than unity, differences between different initial geometries can readily exceed an order of magnitude for both displacement and velocity.

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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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Anne-Marie E. G. Brunner-Suzuki, Miles A. Sundermeyer, and M.-Pascale Lelong

Abstract

The effect of a large-scale internal wave on a multipolar compound vortex was simulated numerically using a 3D Boussinesq pseudospectral model. A suite of simulations tested the effect of a background internal wave of various strengths, including a simulation with only a vortex. Without the background wave, the vortex remained apparently stable for many hundreds of inertial periods but then split into two dipoles. With increasing background wave amplitude, and hence shear, dipole splitting occurred earlier and was less symmetric in space. Theoretical considerations suggest that the vortex alone undergoes a self-induced mixed barotropic–baroclinic instability. For a vortex plus background wave, kinetic energy spectra showed that the internal wave supplied energy for the dipole splitting. In this case, it was found that the presence of the wave hastened the time to instability by increasing the initial perturbation to the vortex. Results suggest that the stability and fate of submesoscale vortices in the ocean may be significantly modified by the presence of large-scale internal waves. This could in turn have a significant effect on the exchange of energy between the submesoscale and both larger and smaller scales.

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Anne-Marie E. G. Brunner-Suzuki, Miles A. Sundermeyer, and M.-Pascale Lelong

Abstract

Diapycnal mixing in the ocean is sporadic yet ubiquitous, leading to patches of mixing on a variety of scales. The adjustment of such mixed patches can lead to the formation of vortices and other small-scale geostrophic motions, which are thought to enhance lateral diffusivity. If vortices are densely populated, they can interact and merge, and upscale energy transfer can occur. Vortex interaction can also be modified by internal waves, thus impacting upscale transfer. Numerical experiments were used to study the effect of a large-scale near-inertial internal wave on a field of submesoscale vortices. While one might expect a vertical shear to limit the vertical scale of merging vortices, it was found that internal wave shear did not disrupt upscale energy transfer. Rather, under certain conditions, it enhanced upscale transfer by enhancing vortex–vortex interaction. If vortices were so densely populated that they interacted even in the absence of a wave, adding a forced large-scale wave enhanced the existing upscale transfer. Results further suggest that continuous forcing by the main driving mechanism (either vortices or internal waves) is necessary to maintain such upscale transfer. These findings could help to improve understanding of the direction of energy transfer in submesoscale oceanic processes.

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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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