Space-time scales of shear in the North Pacific

Alford, MH, MacKinnon JA, Pinkel R, Klymak JM.  2017.  Space-time scales of shear in the North Pacific. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 47:2455-2478.

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deep ocean, Energy flux, field, internal gravity-waves, kinetic-energy, mixed-layer, near-inertial motions, propagation, surface, wind


The spatial, temporal, and directional characteristics of shear are examined in the upper 1400m of the North Pacific during late spring with an array of five profiling moorings deployed from 25 degrees to 37 degrees N (1330 km) and simultaneous shipboard transects past them. The array extended from a regime of moderate wind generation at the north to south of the critical latitude 28.8 degrees N, where parametric subharmonic instability (PSI) can transfer energy from semidiurnal tides to near-inertial motions. Analyses are done in an isopycnal-following frame to minimize contamination by Doppler shifting. Approximately 60% of RMS shear at vertical scales >20m (and 80% for vertical scales >80 m) is contained in near-inertial motions. An inertial back-rotation technique is used to index shipboard observations to a common time and to compute integral time scales of the shear layers. Persistence times are O(7) days at most moorings but O(25) days at the critical latitude. Simultaneous shipboard transects show that these shear layers can have lateral scales >= 100 km. Layers tend to slope downward toward the equator north of the critical latitude and are more flat to its south. Phase between shear and strain is used to infer lateral propagation direction. Upgoing waves are everywhere laterally isotropic. Downgoing waves propagate predominantly equatorward north and south of the critical latitude but are isotropic near it. Broadly, results are consistent with wind generation north of the critical latitude and PSI near it-and suggest a more persistent and laterally coherent near-inertial wave field than previously thought.