Birch Daniel

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Dispersion in the open ocean seasonal pycnocline at scales of 1-10 km and 1-6 days

2020-02-06 , Sundermeyer, Miles A. , Birch, Daniel , Ledwell, James R. , Levine, Murray D. , Pierce, Stephen D. , Cervantes, Brandy T. Kuebel

Results are presented from two dye release experiments conducted in the seasonal thermocline of the Sargasso Sea, one in a region of low horizontal strain rate (~10−6 s−1), the second in a region of intermediate horizontal strain rate (~10−5 s−1). Both experiments lasted ~6 days, covering spatial scales of 1–10 and 1–50 km for the low and intermediate strain rate regimes, respectively. Diapycnal diffusivities estimated from the two experiments were κz = (2–5) × 10−6 m2 s−1, while isopycnal diffusivities were κH = (0.2–3) m2 s−1, with the range in κH being less a reflection of site-to-site variability, and more due to uncertainties in the background strain rate acting on the patch combined with uncertain time dependence. The Site I (low strain) experiment exhibited minimal stretching, elongating to approximately 10 km over 6 days while maintaining a width of ~5 km, and with a notable vertical tilt in the meridional direction. By contrast, the Site II (intermediate strain) experiment exhibited significant stretching, elongating to more than 50 km in length and advecting more than 150 km while still maintaining a width of order 3–5 km. Early surveys from both experiments showed patchy distributions indicative of small-scale stirring at scales of order a few hundred meters. Later surveys show relatively smooth, coherent distributions with only occasional patchiness, suggestive of a diffusive rather than stirring process at the scales of the now larger patches. Together the two experiments provide important clues as to the rates and underlying processes driving diapycnal and isopycnal mixing at these scales.