Similarity theory and parameterization of mixing in the upper ocean

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Boundary layers with small thermal and mechanical inertia are close to steady-state conditions. This underlies the Monin-Obukhov similarity theory and explains why the surface values of the fluxes can be chosen as external parameters. For fluids with large thermal inertia, such as the ocean, the thermal time scale is relatively large, and the density flux is a complex function of depth, thus, the external thermal forcing is no longer a governing parameter. However, the mechanical inertia of the upper ocean is about three orders of magnitude smaller than the thermal inertia. Consequently, the upper ocean can be considered as steady-state in the dynamic sense, to any dynamic property depends primarily on the depth, the surface momentum flux, and the vertical density structure. This property allows us to suggest an alternative formulation of the similarity theory for the stratified boundary layers through specification of a new stratification parameter which characterizes the internal density structure instead of the external density flux. The turbulent mixing coefficient is derived as dependent on the stratification parameter. The latter includes the surface stress and the integral density deficit for the entire layer above. The general form and the asymptotic behavior of the nondimensional turbulent mixing coefficient as a function of the stratification parameter are obtained using dimensional considerations. Determination of numerical parameters is based on 8 years of temperature profiles acquired at the Ocean Weather Ship (OWS) PAPA. Finally, a method for calculating the profile of the turbulent mixing coefficient is obtained. This approach reproduces the 8-year evolution of the upper ocean with the maximum rms difference of approximately 1C and the bias of 1C over the depth range 0–150 m. Additional 1-year simulation of the upper ocean at OWS CHARLEY and 9-year simulation at OWS NOVEMBER confirms reasonable applicability of this approach. The proposed simple turbulent mixing scheme reproduces the evolution of the upper ocean with accuracies similar to those obtained using much more complicated models.

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