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Raffaele Ferrari and Francesco Paparella

Abstract

The surface mixed layer of the ocean is often characterized by thermohaline compensation and alignment. That is, temperature and salinity gradients tend to be parallel and to cancel in their contribution to density. In this paper a combination of theoretical arguments and numerical simulations is presented to investigate how compensation and alignment emerge as a result of processes at work within the mixed layer. The dynamics of the mixed layer is investigated through a simple model that couples a nonlinear diffusive parameterization for the horizontal transports of temperature and salinity with stirring by mesoscale eddies. It is found that stirring quickly aligns the temperature and salinity gradients and that nonlinear diffusion creates compensation. Neither process, by itself, is sufficient to reproduce the observations.

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Kurt Polzin and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Finescale velocity and density fluctuations consist of both internal waves and vorticity-containing perturbations (vortical modes). A recent decomposition of observations obtained as part of the North Atlantic Tracer Release Experiment (NATRE) permits one to investigate isopycnal stirring associated with vortical modes. This stirring is treated here as a relative dispersion problem in the context of 2D turbulence. Isopycnal diffusivities attain values on the order of 1 m2 s−1 after an initial transient of 5–10 days. After 2 weeks, a patch of tracer with initial radius of 25 m is predicted to have evolved into a convoluted web having an rms radius of 2–4 km. These estimates agree with observations of the evolution of an anthropogenic tracer in NATRE.

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Maxim Nikurashin and Raffaele Ferrari

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Observations and inverse models suggest that small-scale turbulent mixing is enhanced in the Southern Ocean in regions above rough topography. The enhancement extends O(1) km above the topography, suggesting that mixing is supported by the breaking of gravity waves radiated from the ocean bottom. In this study, it is shown that the observed mixing rates can be sustained by internal waves generated by geostrophic motions flowing over bottom topography. Weakly nonlinear theory is used to describe the internal wave generation and the feedback of the waves on the zonally averaged flow. Vigorous inertial oscillations are driven at the ocean bottom by waves generated at steep topography. The wave radiation and dissipation at equilibrium is therefore the result of both geostrophic flow and inertial oscillations differing substantially from the classical lee-wave problem. The theoretical predictions are tested versus two-dimensional high-resolution numerical simulations with parameters representative of Drake Passage. This work suggests that mixing in Drake Passage can be supported by geostrophic motions impinging on rough topography rather than by barotropic tidal motions, as is commonly assumed.

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Maxim Nikurashin and Raffaele Ferrari

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Recent estimates from observations and inverse models indicate that turbulent mixing associated with internal wave breaking is enhanced above rough topography in the Southern Ocean. In most regions of the ocean, abyssal mixing has been primarily associated with radiation and breaking of internal tides. In this study, it is shown that abyssal mixing in the Southern Ocean can be sustained by internal waves generated by geostrophic motions that dominate abyssal flows in this region. Theory and fully nonlinear numerical simulations are used to estimate the internal wave radiation and dissipation from lowered acoustic Doppler current profiler (LADCP), CTD, and topography data from two regions in the Southern Ocean: Drake Passage and the southeast Pacific. The results show that radiation and dissipation of internal waves generated by geostrophic motions reproduce the magnitude and distribution of dissipation previously inferred from finescale measurements in the region, suggesting that it is one of the primary drivers of abyssal mixing in the Southern Ocean.

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Malte Jansen and Raffaele Ferrari

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A major question for climate studies is to quantify the role of turbulent eddy fluxes in maintaining the observed atmospheric mean state. Both the equator-to-pole temperature gradient and the static stability of the extratropical atmosphere are set by a balance between these eddy fluxes and the radiative forcing. Much attention has been paid to the adjustment of the isentropic slope, which relates the static stability and the meridional temperature gradient. It is often argued that the extratropical atmosphere always equilibrates such that isentropes leaving the surface in the subtropics reach the tropopause near the poles. However, recent work challenged this argument. This paper revisits scaling arguments for the equilibrated mean state of a dry atmosphere, which results from a balance between the radiative forcing and the along-isentropic eddy heat flux. These arguments predict weak sensitivity of the isentropic slope to changes in the radiative forcing, consistent with previous results. Large changes can, however, be achieved if other external parameters, such as the size and rotation rate of the planet, are varied. The arguments are also extended to predict both the meridional temperature gradient and the static stability independently. This allows a full characterization of the atmospheric mean state as a function of external parameters.

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Jörn Callies and Raffaele Ferrari

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The large-scale circulation of the abyssal ocean is enabled by small-scale diapycnal mixing, which observations suggest is strongly enhanced toward the ocean bottom, where the breaking of internal tides and lee waves is most vigorous. As discussed recently, bottom-intensified mixing induces a pattern of near-bottom up- and downwelling that is quite different from the traditionally assumed widespread upwelling. Here the consequences of bottom-intensified mixing for the horizontal circulation of the abyssal ocean are explored by considering planetary geostrophic dynamics in an idealized “bathtub geometry.” Up- and downwelling layers develop on bottom slopes as expected, and these layers are well described by boundary layer theory. The basin-scale circulation is driven by flows in and out of these boundary layers at the base of the sloping topography, which creates primarily zonal currents in the interior and a net meridional exchange along western boundaries. The rate of the net overturning is controlled by the up- and downslope transports in boundary layers on slopes and can be predicted with boundary layer theory.

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Raffaele Ferrari and Paola Cessi

Abstract

The signatures of feedback between the atmosphere and the ocean are studied with a simple coupled model. The atmospheric component, based on Lorenz's 1984 model is chaotic and has intrinsic variability at all timescales. The oceanic component models the wind-driven circulation, and has intrinsic variability only in the decadal band. The phase of the cospectrum of atmospheric and oceanic temperatures is examined and it is found that in the decadal band, the oceanic signal leads the atmospheric one, while the opposite is true at shorter and longer timescales. The associated atmosphere-only model, driven by the oceanic temperature derived from a coupled run, synchronizes to the coupled run for arbitrary initial conditions. When noise is introduced in the time series of oceanic driving, episodic synchronization still occurs, but only in summer, indicating that control of the atmosphere by the oceanic variables is prevalent in this season.

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Malte Jansen and Raffaele Ferrari

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Observations suggest that the time- and zonal-mean state of the extratropical atmosphere adjusts itself such that the so-called “criticality parameter” (which relates the vertical stratification to the horizontal temperature gradient) is close to one. T. Schneider has argued that the criticality parameter is kept near one by a constraint on the zonal momentum budget in primitive equations. The constraint relies on a diffusive closure for the eddy flux of potential vorticity (PV) with an eddy diffusivity that is approximately constant in the vertical.

The diffusive closure for the eddy PV flux, however, depends crucially on the definition of averages along isentropes that intersect the surface. It is argued that the definition favored by Schneider results in eddy PV fluxes whose physical interpretation is unclear and that do not satisfy the proposed closure in numerical simulations. An alternative definition, first proposed by T.-Y. Koh and R. A. Plumb, is preferred. A diffusive closure for the eddy PV flux under this definition is supported by analysis of the PV variance budget and can be used to close the near-surface zonal momentum budget in idealized numerical simulations. Following this approach, it is shown that O(1) criticalities are obtained if the eddy diffusivity decays from its surface value to about zero over the depth of the troposphere, which is likely to be the case in Earth’s atmosphere. Large criticality parameters, however, are possible if the eddy diffusivity decays only weakly in the vertical, consistent with results from quasigeostrophic models. This provides theoretical support for recent numerical studies that have found supercritical mean states in primitive equation models.

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Xiaozhou Ruan and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Turbulent mixing across density surfaces transforms abyssal ocean waters into lighter waters and is vital to close the deepest branches of the global overturning circulation. Over the last 20 years, mixing rates inferred from in situ microstructure profilers and tracer release experiments (TREs) have provided valuable insights in the connection between small-scale mixing and large-scale ocean circulation. Problematically, estimates based on TREs consistently exceed those from collocated in situ microstructure measurements. These differences have been attributed to a low bias in the microstructure estimates that can miss strong, but rare, mixing events. Here we demonstrate that TRE estimates can suffer from a high bias, because of the approximations generally made to interpret the data. We first derive formulas to estimate mixing from the temporal growth of the second moment of a tracer patch by extending Taylor’s celebrated formula to account for both density stratification and variations in mixing rates. The formulas are validated with tracers released in numerical simulations of turbulent flows and then used to discuss biases in the interpretation of TREs based estimates and how to possibly overcome them.

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Malte Jansen and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

A major question for climate studies is to quantify the role of turbulent eddy fluxes in maintaining the observed ocean–atmosphere state. It has been argued that eddy fluxes keep the midlatitude atmosphere in a state that is marginally critical to baroclinic instability, which provides a powerful constraint on the response of the atmosphere to changes in external forcing. No comparable criterion appears to exist for the ocean. This is particularly surprising for the Southern Ocean, a region whose dynamics are very similar to the midlatitude atmosphere, but observations and numerical models suggest that the currents are supercritical.

This paper aims to resolve this apparent contradiction using a combination of theoretical considerations and eddy-resolving numerical simulations. It is shown that both marginally critical and supercritical mean states can be obtained in an idealized diabatically forced (and thus atmosphere-like) Boussinesq system, if the thermal expansion coefficient is varied from large atmosphere-like values to small oceanlike values. The argument is made that the difference in the thermal expansion coefficient dominantly controls the difference in the deformation scale between the two fluids and ultimately renders eddies ineffective in maintaining a marginally critical state in the limit of small thermal expansion coefficients.

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