National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2016

Estimating diffusivity from the mixed layer heat and salt balances in the North Pacific

Cronin, M.F., N.A. Pelland, S.R. Emerson, and W.R. Crawford

J. Geophys. Res., 120(11), 7346–7362, doi: 10.1002/2015JC011010 (2015)

Data from two National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) surface moorings in the North Pacific, in combination with data from satellite, Argo floats and glider (when available), are used to evaluate the residual diffusive flux of heat across the base of the mixed layer from the surface mixed layer heat budget. The diffusion coefficient (i.e., diffusivity) is then computed by dividing the diffusive flux by the temperature gradient in the 20 m transition layer just below the base of the mixed layer. At Station Papa in the NE Pacific subpolar gyre, this diffusivity is 1 × 10−4 m2/s during summer, increasing to ~3 × 10−4 m2/s during fall. During late winter and early spring, diffusivity has large errors. At other times, diffusivity computed from the mixed layer salt budget at Papa correlate with those from the heat budget, giving confidence that the results are robust for all seasons except late winter-early spring and can be used for other tracers. In comparison, at the Kuroshio Extension Observatory (KEO) in the NW Pacific subtropical recirculation gyre, somewhat larger diffusivities are found based upon the mixed layer heat budget: ~3 × 10−4 m2/s during the warm season and more than an order of magnitude larger during the winter, although again, wintertime errors are large. These larger values at KEO appear to be due to the increased turbulence associated with the summertime typhoons, and weaker wintertime stratification.

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