An assessment of density-based finescale methods for estimating diapycnal diffusivity in the Southern Ocean

Frants, M, Damerell GM, Gille ST, Heywood KJ, MacKinnon J, Sprintall J.  2013.  An assessment of density-based finescale methods for estimating diapycnal diffusivity in the Southern Ocean. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology. 30:2647-2661.

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abyssal ocean, diapycnal mixing, In situ oceanic observations, length scales, mixing, observations, overturns, profiles, ridge, rough topography, shear, ship, strain, thorpe, turbulent dissipation


Finescale estimates of diapycnal diffusivity are computed from CTD and expendable CTD (XCTD) data sampled in Drake Passage and in the eastern Pacific sector of the Southern Ocean and are compared against microstructure measurements from the same times and locations. The microstructure data show vertical diffusivities that are one-third to one-fifth as large over the smooth abyssal plain in the southeastern Pacific as they are in Drake Passage, where diffusivities are thought to be enhanced by the flow of the Antarctic Circumpolar Current over rough topography. Finescale methods based on vertical strain estimates are successful at capturing the spatial variability between the low-mixing regime in the southeastern Pacific and the high-mixing regime of Drake Passage. Thorpe-scale estimates for the same dataset fail to capture the differences between Drake Passage and eastern Pacific estimates. XCTD profiles have lower vertical resolution and higher noise levels after filtering than CTD profiles, resulting in XCTD estimates that are, on average, an order of magnitude higher than CTD estimates. Overall, microstructure diffusivity estimates are better matched by strain-based estimates than by estimates based on Thorpe scales, and CTD data appear to perform better than XCTD data. However, even the CTD-based strain diffusivity estimates can differ from microstructure diffusivities by nearly an order of magnitude, suggesting that density-based fine-structure methods of estimating mixing from CTD or XCTD data have real limitations in low-stratification regimes such as the Southern Ocean.