Diapycnal motion, diffusion, and stretching of tracers in the ocean

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Authors

Henri Francois Drake , Xiaozhou Ruan, Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Small-scale mixing drives the diabatic upwelling that closes the abyssal ocean overturning circulation. Measurements of in-situ turbulence reveal that mixing is bottom-enhanced over rough topography, implying downwelling in the interior and stronger upwelling in a sloping bottom boundary layer. However, in-situ mixing estimates are indirect and the inferred vertical velocities have not yet been confirmed. Purposeful releases of inert tracers, and their subsequent spreading, have been used to independently infer turbulent diffusivities; however, these Tracer Release Experiments (TREs) provide estimates in excess of in-situ ones. In an attempt to reconcile these differences, Ruan and Ferrari (2021) derived exact buoyancy moment diagnostics, which we here apply to quasi-realistic simulations. We show in a numerical simulation that tracer-averaged diapycnal motion is directly driven by the tracer-averaged buoyancy velocity, a convolution of the asymmetric upwelling/downwelling dipole. Diapycnal spreading, however, involves both the expected contribution from the tracer-averaged in-situ diffusion and an additional non-linear diapycnal stretching term. These diapycnal stretching effects, caused by correlations between buoyancy and the buoyancy velocity, can either enhance or reduce tracer spreading. Diapycnal stretching in the stratified interior is compensated by diapycnal contraction near the bottom; for simulations of the Brazil Basin Tracer Release Experiment these nearly cancel by coincidence. By contrast, a numerical tracer released near the bottom experiences leading-order stretching that varies in time. These results suggest mixing estimates from TREs are not unambiguous, especially near topography, and that more attention should be paid towards the evolution of tracers' first moments.

DOI

https://doi.org/10.31223/X59P84

Subjects

Applied Mathematics, Fluid Dynamics, Non-linear Dynamics, Oceanography, Oceanography and Atmospheric Sciences and Meteorology, Physical Sciences and Mathematics

Keywords

mixing, tracer transport, diffusion, stratified, Turbulence, diffusivity, Bottom boundary layer

Dates

Published: 2022-01-07 17:03

Last Updated: 2022-01-11 00:40

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License

CC BY Attribution 4.0 International

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