The saturation of fluid turbulence in breaking laboratory waves and implications for whitecaps

Deane, GB, Stokes MD, Callaghan AH.  2016.  The saturation of fluid turbulence in breaking laboratory waves and implications for whitecaps. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:975-992.

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air entrainment, Atm/Ocean Structure/ Phenomena, Atmosphere-ocean interaction, boundary layer, bubble-size distributions, deep-water, energy-dissipation, Microscale processes/variability, near-surface, ocean, oceanic mixed layer, sea, sound, turbulence, void-fraction measurements, zone


Measurements of energy dissipated in breaking laboratory waves, averaged over time and space and directly visualized with a bioluminescent technique, are presented. These data show that the energy dissipated in the crest of the breaking waves is constrained: average turbulence intensity within the crest saturates at around 0.5-1.2 W kg(-1), whereas breaking crest volume scales with wave energy lost. These results are consistent with laboratory and field observations of the Hinze scale, which is the radius of the largest bubble entrained within a breaking crest that is stabilized against turbulent fragmentation. The Hinze scale depends on turbulence intensity but lies in the restricted range 0.7-1.7 mm over more than two orders of magnitude variation in underlying unbroken wave energy. The results have important implications for understanding the energetics of breaking waves in the field, the injection of turbulence into the upper ocean, and air-sea exchange processes in wind-driven seas.