Turbulence and Mixing in a Shallow Shelf Sea From Underwater Gliders


The seasonal thermocline in shallow shelf seas acts as a natural barrier for boundary‐generated turbulence, damping scalar transport to the upper regions of the water column and controlling primary production to a certain extent. To better understand turbulence and mixing conditions within the thermocline, two unique 12 and 17 day data sets with continuous measurements of the dissipation rate of turbulent kinetic energy (ɛ) collected by autonomous underwater gliders under stratified to well‐mixed conditions are presented. A highly intermittent ɛ signal was observed in the stratified thermocline region, which was mainly characterized by quiescent flow (turbulent activity index below 7). The rate of diapycnal mixing remained relatively constant for the majority of the time with peaks of higher fluxes that were responsible for much of the increase in bottom mixed layer temperature. The water column stayed predominantly strongly stratified, with a bulk Richardson number across the thermocline well above 2. A positive relationship between the intensity of turbulence, shear, and stratification was found. The trend between turbulence levels and the bulk Richardson number was relatively weak but suggests that ɛ increases as the bulk Richardson number approaches 1. The results also highlight the interpretation difficulties in both quantifying turbulent thermocline fluxes as well as the responsible mechanisms.
QR Code: Link to publication