Ruan Xiaozhou

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  • Article
    Diapycnal displacement, diffusion, and distortion of tracers in the ocean
    (American Meteorological Society, 2022-11-18) Drake, Henri F. ; Ruan, Xiaozhou ; Ferrari, Raffaele
    Small-scale mixing drives the diabatic upwelling that closes the abyssal ocean overturning circulation. Indirect microstructure measurements of in situ turbulence suggest that mixing is bottom enhanced over rough topography, implying downwelling in the interior and stronger upwelling in a sloping bottom boundary layer. Tracer release experiments (TREs), in which inert tracers are purposefully released and their dispersion is surveyed over time, have been used to independently infer turbulent diffusivities—but typically provide estimates in excess of microstructure ones. In an attempt to reconcile these differences, Ruan and Ferrari derived exact tracer-weighted buoyancy moment diagnostics, which we here apply to quasi-realistic simulations. A tracer’s diapycnal displacement rate is exactly twice the tracer-averaged buoyancy velocity, itself a convolution of an asymmetric upwelling/downwelling dipole. The tracer’s diapycnal spreading rate, however, involves both the expected positive contribution from the tracer-averaged in situ diffusion as well as an additional nonlinear diapycnal distortion term, which is caused by correlations between buoyancy and the buoyancy velocity, and can be of either sign. Distortion is generally positive (stretching) due to bottom-enhanced mixing in the stratified interior but negative (contraction) near the bottom. Our simulations suggest that these two effects coincidentally cancel for the Brazil Basin Tracer Release Experiment, resulting in negligible net distortion. By contrast, near-bottom tracers experience leading-order distortion that varies in time. Errors in tracer moments due to realistically sparse sampling are generally small (<20%), especially compared to the O(1) structural errors due to the omission of distortion effects in inverse models. These results suggest that TREs, although indispensable, should not be treated as “unambiguous” constraints on diapycnal mixing.
  • Article
    Dynamics of eddying abyssal mixing layers over sloping rough topography
    (American Meteorological Society, 2022-11-18) Drake, Henri F. ; Ruan, Xiaozhou ; Callies, Joern ; Ogden, Kelly A. ; Thurnherr, Andreas M. ; Ferrari, Raffaele
    The abyssal overturning circulation is thought to be primarily driven by small-scale turbulent mixing. Diagnosed water-mass transformations are dominated by rough topography “hotspots,” where the bottom enhancement of mixing causes the diffusive buoyancy flux to diverge, driving widespread downwelling in the interior—only to be overwhelmed by an even stronger upwelling in a thin bottom boundary layer (BBL). These water-mass transformations are significantly underestimated by one-dimensional (1D) sloping boundary layer solutions, suggesting the importance of three-dimensional physics. Here, we use a hierarchy of models to generalize this 1D boundary layer approach to three-dimensional eddying flows over realistically rough topography. When applied to the Mid-Atlantic Ridge in the Brazil Basin, the idealized simulation results are roughly consistent with available observations. Integral buoyancy budgets isolate the physical processes that contribute to realistically strong BBL upwelling. The downward diffusion of buoyancy is primarily balanced by upwelling along the sloping canyon sidewalls and the surrounding abyssal hills. These flows are strengthened by the restratifying effects of submesoscale baroclinic eddies and by the blocking of along-ridge thermal wind within the canyon. Major topographic sills block along-thalweg flows from restratifying the canyon trough, resulting in the continual erosion of the trough’s stratification. We propose simple modifications to the 1D boundary layer model that approximate each of these three-dimensional effects. These results provide local dynamical insights into mixing-driven abyssal overturning, but a complete theory will also require the nonlocal coupling to the basin-scale circulation.