National Oceanic and
Atmospheric Administration
United States Department of Commerce


FY 2017

Focusing of internal tides by near-inertial waves

Cuypers, Y., P. Bouruet-Aubertot, J. Vialard, and M.J. McPhaden

Geophys. Res. Lett., 44(5), 2398–2406, doi: 10.1002/2017GL072625 (2017)

The refraction of internal waves by lower-frequency near-inertial waves has been predicted theoretically, but never observed before. Here, we report observations of semi-diurnal internal tides generated by the rough topography of the Central Indian Ridge, in the presence of a strong, lower-frequency near-inertial wave field generated by a tropical storm. The semi-diurnal internal tide energy is trapped within upward propagating bands with a periodicity close to the inertial period. A ray-tracing model suggests that this trapping results from the internal tide refraction by the shear associated with near-inertial waves. This yields a strong increase of the internal tide energy and shear in space-time regions where the background flow focuses the rays, leading to the formation of caustics. This mechanism may increase vertical mixing generated by baroclinic tides in the vicinity of mid-ocean ridges in tropical regions.

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