Langmuir cells and mixing in the upper ocean

Carniel, Sandro and Sclavo, M. and Kantha, L. H. and Clayson, C. A. (2005) Langmuir cells and mixing in the upper ocean. Il nuovo cimento C, 28 (1). pp. 33-54. ISSN 1826-9885

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The presence of surface gravity waves at the ocean surface has two important effects on turbulence in the oceanic mixed layer (ML): the wave breaking and the Langmuir cells (LC). Both these effects act as additional sources of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) in the oceanic ML, and hence are important to mixing in the upper ocean. The breaking of high wave-number components of the wind wave spectrum provides an intense but sporadic source of turbulence in the upper surface; turbulence thus injected diffuses downward, while decaying rapidly, modifying oceanic near-surface properties which in turn could affect the air-sea transfer of heat and dissolved gases. LC provide another source of additional turbulence in the water column; they are counter-rotating cells inside the ML, with their axes roughly aligned in the direction of the wind (Langmuir I., Science, 87 (1938) 119). These structures are usually made evident by the presence of debris and foam in the convergence area of the cells, and are generated by the interaction of the wave-field–induced Stokes drift with the wind-induced shear stress. LC have long been thought to have a substantial influence on mixing in the upper ocean, but the difficulty in their parameterization have made ML modelers consistently ignore them in the past. However, recent Large Eddy Simulations (LES) studies suggest that it is possible to include their effect on mixing by simply adding additional production terms in the turbulence equations, thus enabling even 1D models to incorporate LC-driven turbulence. Since LC also modify the Coriolis terms in the mean momentum equations by the addition of a term involving the Stokes drift, their effect on the velocity structure in the ML is also quite significant and could have a major impact on the drift of objects and spilled oil in the upper ocean. In this paper we examine the effect of surface gravity waves on mixing in the upper ocean, focusing on Langmuir circulations, which is by far the dominant part of the surface wave contribution to mixing. Oceanic ML models incorporating these effects are applied to an observation station in the Northern Adriatic Sea to see what the extent of these effects might be. It is shown that the surface wave effects can indeed be significant; in particular, the modification of the velocity profile due to LC-generated turbulence can be large under certain conditions. However, the surface wave effects on the bulk properties of the ML, such as the associated temperature, while significant, are generally speaking well within the errors introduced by uncertainties in the external forcing of the models. This seems to be the reason why ML models, though pretty much ignoring surface wave effects until recently, have been reasonably successful in depicting the evolution of the mixed layer temperature (MLT) at various timescales.

Item Type: Article
Uncontrolled Keywords: Dynamics of the upper ocean ; Turbulence and diffusion ; Sea-air energy exchange processes ; Computer modeling and simulation
Subjects: 500 Scienze naturali e Matematica > 550 Scienze della Terra > 551 Geologia, Idrologia, Meteorologia
Depositing User: Marina Spanti
Date Deposited: 14 Mar 2020 13:47
Last Modified: 14 Mar 2020 13:47

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