Observations of turbulence, internal waves and background flows : an inquiry into the relationships between scales of motion

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Polzin, Kurt L.
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Northwest Atlantic Subtropical Front
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Internal waves
Wave functions
Endeavor (Ship: 1976-) Cruise EN141
Oceanic profiles of temperature, salinity, horizontal velocity, rate of dissipation of turbulent kinetic energy (ε) and rate of dissipation of thermal variance (χ) are used to examine the parameterization of turbulent mixing in the ocean due to internal waves. Turbulent mixing is quantified through eddy diffusivity parameterizations of the mass (Kρ; Osborn, 1980) and heat fluxes (Kτ; Osborn and Cox, 1972) in turbulent production/dissipation balances. Turbulence in the ocean is generally held to result from the occurrence of shear instability in regions where the Richardson number is locally supercritical (i.e. Ri ≤ 1/4), permitting the growth of small-scale waves which break and result in turbulent mixing. The occurrence of shear instability results from the local intensification of the shear in the internal wave field. The energy dissipated in such events is provided by the energy flux to higher wavenumber due to nonlinear wave/wave interactions on scales of 10's to 100's of meters. In turn, the strength of the wave/wave interactions depends generally on the energy content of the internal wave field, which can vary considerably over even larger scales due to the presence of topography or background flows. The magnitude of turbulent mixing is linked to internal wave dynamics by equating the turbulent dissipation with the energy flux through the vertical wavenumber spectrum under the priviso that the model spectrum which forms the basis for the analysis is statistically stationary with respect to the nonlinear interactions. Dynamical models (McComas and Muller, 1981; Henyey et al., 1986) indicate that the Garrett and Munk (GM; Munk, 1981) spectrum is stationary. Observations from the far field of a seamount in a region of negligible large-scale flow were examined to address the issue of the buoyancy scaling of ε. These data exhibited large variations in background stratification with depth, but the internal wave characteristics were not substantially differentiable from the GM prescription. The magnitude of ε and its functional dependence upon internal wave energy levels (E) and buoyancy frequency (N) was best described by the dynamical model ofHenyey et al. (1986) (ε ~ E2N2). The Richardson number scaling model of Kunze et al. (1990) produced consistent estimates. A second dynamical model, McComas and Muller (1981), predicted an appropriate (E,N) scaling, but overestimated the observed dissipation rates by a factor of five. Two kinematical dissipation parameterizations (Garmett and Holloway (1984) and Munk (1981)) predicted buoyancy scalings of N3/2 which were inconsistent with the observed scaling. Data from an upper-ocean front, a warm core ring and a region of steep topography were analyzed in order to examine the parameter dependence of E in internal wave fields which exhibited potentially nonstationary characteristics. Evidence was provided which implied the internal wave field in an upper ocean front was interacting with and modified by the background flow. Inhomogeneity and anisotropy of the internal wave field were noted in that data set. The model of Gregg (1989), which in turn was based upon the model of Henyey et al., effectively collapsed the observed diffusivity estimates from the front. The warm core ring profiles were noted to be anisotropic, dominated by near-inertial frequencies and to have a peaked vertical wavenumber shear spectrum. The data from a region of steep topography were noted to have a peaked vertical wavenumber spectrum and were characterized by higher than GM frequency motions. For the latter two data sets, application of a frequency based correction to the Henyey et al. model (Henyey, 1991) reduced more than an order of magnitude scatter in the parameterized estimates of E to less than a factor of four. Of the possible non-equilibrium conditions in the internal wave field, the (E,N) scaled dissipation rates were most sensitive to deviations in wave field frequency content. On the basis of a number of theoretical Richardson number probability distributions (Ri = N2/S2, where S2 is the sum of the squared vertical derivatives of horizontal velocity), the nominal dissipation scaling of the Kunze et al. model was determined to be E2N3. This scaling is altered to the observed ε ~ E2N2 scaling by a statistical dependence between N2 and S2 which reduces the occurrence of supercritical Ri values. This statistical dependence is hypothesized to be an effect of the turbulent momentum and buoyancy fluxes on the internal wave shear and strain profiles caused by shear instability. The statistical dependence between N2 and S2 exhibited a buoyancy scaling which was interpreted as resulting from the decreasing ratio between the time scale of the shear instability mechanism [T- 2π/N] and the adiabatic time scale [T - 2π/(Nf)1/2] of the internal wave field (f is the Coriolis parameter). This phenomenology is interpreted in light of saturated spectral theories which suggest that the magnitude and shape of the vertical wavenumber spectrum is controlled by instability mechanisms at large wavenumber ( ≥ .1 cpm). We argue that saturated spectral theories are valid only in the limit where a separation exists between the two time scales, i.e. for large N, low internal wave frequency content, and small f. These results have immediate implications for oceanic mixing driven by internal wave motions. First, background diffusivities are small: at GM energy levels, Kρ - .03x10-4 m2/s (Kρ = .25ε/N2). Secondly, since Kρ is independent of N at constant E, some process or collection of processes must be responsible for heightened E values in the abyss if internal waves cause the 0(1-10x10-4 m2/s) diffusivities generally inferred from deep ocean hydrographic data. We view internal wave reflection and/or internal wave generation associated with topographic features to be likely candidates.
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 September 1992
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Polzin, K. L. (1992). Observations of turbulence, internal waves and background flows : an inquiry into the relationships between scales of motion [Doctoral thesis, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution]. Woods Hole Open Access Server. https://doi.org/10.1575/1912/5484
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