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Jörn Callies and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

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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Kurt Polzin and Raffaele Ferrari

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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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Malte Jansen and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

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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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 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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Maxim Nikurashin and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

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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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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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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Maxim Nikurashin and Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

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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Raffaele Ferrari and Maxim Nikurashin

Abstract

Geostrophic eddies control the meridional mixing of heat, carbon, and other climatically important tracers in the Southern Ocean. The rate of eddy mixing is typically quantified through an eddy diffusivity. There is an ongoing debate as to whether eddy mixing in enhanced in the core of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current or on its flanks. A simple expression is derived that predicts the rate of eddy mixing, that is, the eddy diffusivity, as a function of eddy and mean current statistics. This novel expression predicts suppression of the cross-jet eddy diffusivity in the core of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, despite enhanced values of eddy kinetic energy. The expression is qualitatively and quantitatively validated by independent estimates of eddy mixing from altimetry observations. This work suggests that the meridional eddy diffusivity across the Antarctic Circumpolar Current is weaker than presently assumed because of the suppression of eddy mixing by the strong zonal current.

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Leif Thomas and Raffaele Ferrari

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The generation and destruction of stratification in the surface mixed layer of the ocean is understood to result from vertical turbulent transport of buoyancy and momentum driven by air–sea fluxes and stresses. In this paper, it is shown that the magnitude and penetration of vertical fluxes are strongly modified by horizontal gradients in buoyancy and momentum. A classic example is the strong restratification resulting from frontogenesis in regions of confluent flow. Frictional forces acting on a baroclinic current either imposed externally by a wind stress or caused by the spindown of the current itself also modify the stratification by driving Ekman flows that differentially advect density. Ekman flow induced during spindown always tends to restratify the fluid, while wind-driven Ekman currents will restratify or destratify the mixed layer if the wind stress has a component up or down front (i.e., directed against or with the geostrophic shear), respectively. Scalings are constructed for the relative importance of friction versus frontogenesis in the restratification of the mixed layer and are tested using numerical experiments of mixed layer fronts forced by both winds and a strain field. The scalings suggest and the numerical experiments confirm that for wind stress magnitudes, mixed layer depths, and cross-front density gradients typical of the ocean, wind-induced friction often dominates frontogenesis in the modification of the stratification of the upper ocean. The experiments reveal that wind-induced destratification is weaker in magnitude than restratification because the stratification generated by up-front winds confines the turbulent stress to a depth shallower than the Ekman layer, which enhances the frictional force, Ekman flow, and differential advection of density. Frictional destratification is further reduced over restratification because the stress associated with the geostrophic shear at the surface tends to compensate a down-front wind stress.

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