Scaling turbulent dissipation in the transition layer
Sun, Oliver M. T.
Jayne, Steven R.
Polzin, Kurt L.
Rahter, Bryan A.
St. Laurent, Louis C.
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KeywordAtm/Ocean Structure/ Phenomena; Diapycnal mixing; Mixed layer; Thermocline; Physical Meteorology and Climatology; Heat budgets/fluxes; Observational techniques and algorithms; In situ oceanic observations; Profilers, oceanic
Data from three midlatitude, month-long surveys are examined for evidence of enhanced vertical mixing associated with the transition layer (TL), here defined as the strongly stratified layer that exists between the well mixed layer and the thermocline below. In each survey, microstructure estimates of turbulent dissipation were collected concurrently with fine-structure stratification and shear. Survey-wide averages are formed in a “TL coordinate” zTL, which is referenced around the depth of maximum stratification for each profile. Averaged profiles show characteristic TL structures such as peaks in stratification N2 and shear variance S2, which fall off steeply above zTL = 0 and more gradually below. Turbulent dissipation rates ɛ are 5–10 times larger than those found in the upper thermocline (TC). The gradient Richardson number Ri = N2/S2 becomes unstable (Ri < 0.25) within ~10 m of the TL upper boundary, suggesting that shear instability is active in the TL for zTL > 0. Ri is stable for zTL ≤ 0. Turbulent dissipation is found to scale exponentially with depth for zTL ≤ 0, but the decay scales are different for the TL and upper TC: ɛ scales well with either N2 or S2. Owing to the strong correlation between S2 and N2, existing TC scalings of the form ɛ ~ |S|p|N|q overpredict variations in ɛ. The scale dependence of shear variance is not found to significantly affect the scalings of ɛ versus N2 and S2 for zTL ≤ 0. However, the onset of unstable Ri at the top of the TL is sensitively dependent to the resolution of the shears.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2013. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 43 (2013): 2475–2489, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-13-057.1.
Suggested CitationJournal of Physical Oceanography 43 (2013): 2475–2489
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