National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2002

Internal waves and turbulence in the upper central equatorial Pacific: Lagrangian and Eulerian observations

Lien, R.-C., E.A. D'Asaro, and M.J. McPhaden

J. Phys. Oceanogr., 32(9), 2619–2639, doi: 10.1175/1520-0485-32.9.2619 (2002)

In the shear stratified flow below the surface mixed layer in the central equatorial Pacific, energetic near-N (buoyancy frequency) internal waves and turbulence mixing were observed by the combination of a Lagrangian neutrally buoyant float and Eulerian mooring sensors. The turbulence kinetic energy dissipation rate ε and the thermal variance diffusion rate χ were inferred from Lagrangian frequency spectral levels of vertical acceleration and thermal change rate, respectively, in the turbulence inertial subrange. Variables exhibiting a nighttime enhancement include the vertical velocity variance (dominated by near-N waves), ε, and χ;. Observed high levels of turbulence mixing in this low-Ri (Richardson number) layer, the so-called deep-cycle layer, are consistent with previous microstructure measurements. The Lagrangian float encountered a shear instability event. Near-N waves grew exponentially with a 1-h timescale followed by enhanced turbulence kinetic energy and strong dissipation rate. The event supports the scenario that in the deep-cycle layer shear instability may induce growing internal waves that break into turbulence. Superimposed on few large shear-instability events were background westward-propagating near-N waves. The floats' ability to monitor turbulence mixing and internal waves was demonstrated by comparison with previous microstructure measurements and with Eulerian measurements.

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