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Eric A. D'Asaro, Charles C. Eriksen, Murray D. Levine, Clayton A. paulson, Peter Niiler, and Pim Van Meurs


A strong, isolated October storm generated 0.35–0.7 m s−1 inertia] frequency currents in the 40-m deep mixed layer of a 300 km×300 km region of the northeast Pacific Ocean. The authors describe the evolution of these currents and the background flow in which they evolve for nearly a month following the storm. Instruments included CTD profilers, 36 surface drifters, an array of 7 moorings, and air-deployed velocity profilers. The authors then test whether the theory of linear internal waves propagating in a homogeneous ocean can explain the observed evolution of the inertial frequency currents.

The subinertial frequency flow is weak, with typical currents of 5 cm s−1, and steady over the period of interest. The storm generates inertial frequency currents in and somewhat below the mixed layer with a horizontal scale much larger than the Rossby radius of deformation, reflecting the large-scale and rapid translation speed of the storm. This scale is too large for significant linear propagation of the inertial currents to occur. It steadily decreases owing to the latitudinal variation in f, that is, β, until after about 10 days it becomes sufficiently small for wave propagation to occur. Inertial energy then spreads downward from the mixed layer, decreasing the mixed layer inertial energy and increasing the inertial energy below the mixed layer. A strong maximum in inertial energy is formed at 100 m ("the Beam"). By 21 days after the storm. both mixed layer inertial energy and inertial frequency shear maximum just below the mixed layer have been reduced to background levels. The total depth-average inertial energy decreases by about 40% during this period.

Linear internal wave theory can only partially explain the observed evolution of the inertial frequency currents. The decrease in horizontal wavelength is accurately predicted as due to the β effect. The decrease in depth-average inertial energy is explained by southward propagation of the lowest few modes. The superinertial frequency and clockwise rotation of phase with depth are qualitatively consistent with linear theory. However, linear theory underpredicts the initial rate at which inertial energy is lost from the mixed layer by 20%–50% and cannot explain the decrease of mixed layer energy and shear to background levels in 21 days.

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