Mixing and general circulation dynamics : theory and observations
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This thesis studies the role of cross-isopycnal mixing in general circulation dynamics, from both the theoretical and observational points of view. The first two chapters discuss some theoretical aspects of cross-isopycnal mixing in the oceans. In chapter one, an integral constraint relating the interior stratification and air-sea heat fluxes is derived, based on the condition that the total mass of water of given density is constant in a steady state ocean. Two simple models are then used to examine the way the numerically small mixing, together with air-sea fluxes, determines the average vertical density stratification of the oceans, and the deep buoyancy driven circulation. In chapter two, a more complete model of a deep flow driven by cross isopycnal diffusion is presented, motivated by the Mediterranean outflow into the North Atlantic. Mixing in this model is responsible for the determination of the detailed structure of the flow and density field, while in the models of the first chapter it was allowed to determine only the average vertical density stratification. In chapter three, a hydrographic data set from the Mediterranean sea is analyzed by inverse methods. The purpose is to examine the importance of mixing when trying to explain tracer distributions in the ocean. The time-mean circulation and the appropriate mixing coefficients are calculated from the hydrographic data. We conclude that the numerically small cross isopycnal mixing processes are crucial to the dynamics, yet difficult to parameterize and measure using available hydrographic data.
Submitted in partial fulfillment of the requirements for the degree of Doctor of Philosophy at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology and the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution February 1987
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