Insights into the mixing efficiency of submesoscale Centrifugal-Symmetric instabilities

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Tomas Chor, Jacob O. Wenegrat, John Ryan Taylor


Submesoscale processes provide a pathway for energy to transfer from the balanced circulation to turbulent dissipation. One class of submesoscale phenomena that has been shown to be particularly effective at removing energy from the balanced flow are centrifugal-symmetric instabilities (CSIs), which grow via geostrophic shear production. CSIs have been observed to generate significant mixing in both the surface boundary layer and bottom boundary layer flows along bathymetry, where they have been implicated in the mixing and watermass transformation of Antarctic Bottom Water. However, the mixing efficiency (i.e. the fraction of the energy extracted from the flow used to irreversibly mix the fluid) of these instabilities remains uncertain, making estimates of mixing and energy dissipation due to CSI difficult.

In this work we use large-eddy simulations to investigate the mixing efficiency of CSIs in the submesoscale range. We find that centrifugally-dominated CSIs (i.e. CSI mostly driven by horizontal shear production) tend to have a higher mixing efficiency than symmetrically-dominated ones (i.e. driven by vertical shear production). The mixing efficiency associated with CSIs can therefore alternately be significantly higher or significantly lower than the canonical value used by most studies. These results can be understood in light of recent work on stratified turbulence, whereby CSIs control the background state of the flow in which smaller-scale secondary overturning instabilities develop, thus actively modifying the characteristics of mixing by Kelvin-Helmholtz instabilities. Our results also suggest that it may be possible to predict the mixing efficiency with more readily measurable parameters (namely the Richardson and Rossby numbers), which would allow for parameterization of this effect.



Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics


Submesoscale, Turbulence, Physical oceanography, Geophysical fluid dynamics


Published: 2021-11-11 02:08

Last Updated: 2021-11-11 10:08


CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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