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Field measurements of surface and near-surface turbulence in the presence of breaking waves

TitleField measurements of surface and near-surface turbulence in the presence of breaking waves
Publication TypeJournal Article
Year of Publication2015
AuthorsSutherland P., Melville W.K
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Date Published2015/04
Type of ArticleArticle
ISBN Number0022-3670
Accession NumberWOS:000352542800002
Keywordsboundary-layer; energy-dissipation; enhanced turbulence; flow; gravity-waves; langmuir; ocean mixed-layer; sea; turbulence; velocity-field

Wave breaking removes energy from the surface wave field and injects it into the upper ocean, where it is dissipated by viscosity. This paper presents an investigation of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) dissipation beneath breaking waves. Wind, wave, and turbulence data were collected in the North Pacific Ocean aboard R/P FLIP, during the ONR-sponsored High Resolution Air-Sea Interaction (HiRes) and Radiance in a Dynamic Ocean (RaDyO) experiments. A new method for measuring TKE dissipation at the sea surface was combined with subsurface measurements to allow estimation of TKE dissipation over the entire wave-affected surface layer. Near the surface, dissipation decayed with depth as z(-1), and below approximately one significant wave height, it decayed more quickly, approaching z(-2). High levels of TKE dissipation very near the sea surface were consistent with the large fraction of wave energy dissipation attributed to non-air-entraining microbreakers. Comparison of measured profiles with large-eddy simulation results in the literature suggests that dissipation is concentrated closer to the surface than previously expected, largely because the simulations did not resolve microbreaking. Total integrated dissipation in the water column agreed well with dissipation by breaking for young waves, c(m)/u(*) <50 (where c(m) is the mean wave frequency and u(*) is the atmospheric friction velocity), implying that breaking was the dominant source of turbulence in those conditions. The results of these extensive measurements of near-surface dissipation over three field experiments are discussed in the context of observations and ocean boundary layer modeling efforts by other groups.

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