High-resolution observations of the North Pacific transition layer from a Lagrangian float

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  • 1 Department of Mechanical Engineering, University of California, Berkeley, Berkeley, California
  • | 2 Applied Physics Laboratory, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
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Abstract

Acrucial region of the ocean surface boundary layer (OSBL) is the strongly-sheared and -stratified transition layer (TL) separating the mixed layer from the upper pycnocline, where a diverse range of waves and instabilities are possible. Previous work suggests that these different waves and instabilities will lead to different OSBL behaviours. Therefore, understanding which physical processes occur is key for modelling the TL. Here we present observations of the TL from a Lagrangian float deployed for 73 days near Ocean Weather Station Papa (50°N, 145°W) during Fall 2018. The float followed the vertical motion of the TL, continuously measuring profiles across it using an ADCP, temperature chain and salinity sensors. The temperature chain made depth/time images of TL structures with a resolution of 6cm and 3 seconds. These showed the frequent occurrence of very sharp interfaces, dominated by temperature jumps of O(1)°C over 6cm or less. Temperature inversions were typically small (≲ 10cm), frequent, and strongly-stratified; very few large overturns were observed. The corresponding velocity profiles varied over larger length scales than the temperature profiles. These structures are consistent with scouring behaviour rather than Kelvin-Helmholtz-type overturning. Their net effect, estimated via a Thorpe-scale analysis, suggests that these frequent small temperature inversions can account for the observed mixed layer deepening and entrainment flux. Corresponding estimates of dissipation, diffusivity, and heat fluxes also agree with previous TL studies, suggesting that the TL dynamics is dominated by these nearly continuous 10cm-scale mixing structures, rather than by less frequent larger overturns.

Corresponding author: Alexis Kaminski, kaminski@berkeley.edu

Abstract

Acrucial region of the ocean surface boundary layer (OSBL) is the strongly-sheared and -stratified transition layer (TL) separating the mixed layer from the upper pycnocline, where a diverse range of waves and instabilities are possible. Previous work suggests that these different waves and instabilities will lead to different OSBL behaviours. Therefore, understanding which physical processes occur is key for modelling the TL. Here we present observations of the TL from a Lagrangian float deployed for 73 days near Ocean Weather Station Papa (50°N, 145°W) during Fall 2018. The float followed the vertical motion of the TL, continuously measuring profiles across it using an ADCP, temperature chain and salinity sensors. The temperature chain made depth/time images of TL structures with a resolution of 6cm and 3 seconds. These showed the frequent occurrence of very sharp interfaces, dominated by temperature jumps of O(1)°C over 6cm or less. Temperature inversions were typically small (≲ 10cm), frequent, and strongly-stratified; very few large overturns were observed. The corresponding velocity profiles varied over larger length scales than the temperature profiles. These structures are consistent with scouring behaviour rather than Kelvin-Helmholtz-type overturning. Their net effect, estimated via a Thorpe-scale analysis, suggests that these frequent small temperature inversions can account for the observed mixed layer deepening and entrainment flux. Corresponding estimates of dissipation, diffusivity, and heat fluxes also agree with previous TL studies, suggesting that the TL dynamics is dominated by these nearly continuous 10cm-scale mixing structures, rather than by less frequent larger overturns.

Corresponding author: Alexis Kaminski, kaminski@berkeley.edu
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