Research Interests

  • Ocean dynamics (including internal waves, the mixed layer, abyssal overflows and turbulence) and their impact on the global circulation and coastal ecosystems


  • B.A. Astrophysics, Swarthmore College, 1993
  • Ph.D. Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1998

Recent Publications

MacKinnon, JA, Alford MH, Ansong JK, Arbic BK, Barna A, Briegleb BP, Bryan FO, Buijsman MC, Chassignet EP, Danabasoglu G, Diggs S, Griffies SM, Hallberg RW, Jayne SR, Jochum M, Klymak JM, Kunze E, Large WG, Legg S, Mater B, Melet AV, Merchant LM, Musgrave R, Nash JD, Norton NJ, Pickering A, Pinkel R, Polzin K, Simmons HL, Laurent LSC, Sun OM, Trossman DS, Waterhouse AF, Whalen CB, Zhao Z.  2017.  Climate process team on internal-wave driven ocean mixing. Bulletin of the American Meteorological Society. Abstract

Recent advances in our understanding of internal-wave driven turbulent mixing in the ocean interior are summarized. New parameterizations for global climate ocean models, and their climate impacts, are introduced.Diapycnal mixing plays a primary role in the thermodynamic balance of the ocean and, consequently, in oceanic heat and carbon uptake and storage. Though observed mixing rates are on average consistent with values required by inverse models, recent attention has focused on the dramatic spatial variability, spanning several orders of magnitude, of mixing rates in both the upper and deep ocean. Away from ocean boundaries, the spatio-temporal patterns of mixing are largely driven by the geography of generation, propagation and dissipation of internal waves, which supply much of the power for turbulent mixing. Over the last five years and under the auspices of US CLIVAR, a NSF- and NOAA-supported Climate Process Team has been engaged in developing, implementing and testing dynamics-based parameterizations for internal-wave driven turbulent mixing in global ocean models. The work has primarily focused on turbulence 1) near sites of internal tide generation, 2) in the upper ocean related to wind-generated near inertial motions, 3) due to internal lee waves generated by low-frequency mesoscale flows over topography, and 4) at ocean margins. Here we review recent progress, describe the tools developed, and discuss future directions.

Savage, AC, Arbic BK, Richman JG, Shriver JF, Alford MH, Buijsman MC, Farrar JT, Sharma H, Voet G, Wallcraft AJ, Zamudio L.  2017.  Frequency content of sea surface height variability from internal gravity waves to mesoscale eddies. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 122:2519-2538. AbstractWebsite

High horizontal-resolution (1/12: 5 degrees and 1/25 degrees) 41-layer global simulations of the HYbrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM), forced by both atmospheric fields and the astronomical tidal potential, are used to construct global maps of sea surface height (SSH) variability. The HYCOM output is separated into steric and nonsteric and into subtidal, diurnal, semidiurnal, and supertidal frequency bands. The model SSH output is compared to two data sets that offer some geographical coverage and that also cover a wide range of frequencies-a set of 351 tide gauges that measure full SSH and a set of 14 in situ vertical profilers from which steric SSH can be calculated. Three of the global maps are of interest in planning for the upcoming Surface Water and Ocean Topography (SWOT) two-dimensional swath altimeter mission: (1) maps of the total and (2) nonstationary internal tidal signal (the latter calculated after removing the stationary internal tidal signal via harmonic analysis), with an average variance of 1: 05 and 0: 43 cm(2), respectively, for the semidiurnal band, and (3) a map of the steric supertidal contributions, which are dominated by the internal gravity wave continuum, with an average variance of 0: 15 cm2. Stationary internal tides (which are predictable), nonstationary internal tides (which will be harder to predict), and nontidal internal gravity waves (which will be very difficult to predict) may all be important sources of high-frequency "noise" that could mask lower frequency phenomena in SSH measurements made by the SWOT mission.

Ansong, JK, Arbic BK, Alford MH, Buijsman MC, Shriver JF, Zhao ZX, Richman JG, Simmons HL, Timko PG, Wallcraft AJ, Zamudio L.  2017.  Semidiurnal internal tide energy fluxes and their variability in a Global Ocean Model and moored observations. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 122:1882-1900. AbstractWebsite

We examine the temporal means and variability of the semidiurnal internal tide energy fluxes in 1/25 degrees global simulations of the Hybrid Coordinate Ocean Model (HYCOM) and in a global archive of 79 historical moorings. Low-frequency flows, a major cause of internal tide variability, have comparable kinetic energies at the mooring sites in model and observations. The computed root-mean-square (RMS) variability of the energy flux is large in both model and observations and correlates positively with the time-averaged flux magnitude. Outside of strong generation regions, the normalized RMS variability (the RMS variability divided by the mean) is nearly independent of the flux magnitudes in the model, and of order 23% or more in both the model and observations. The spatially averaged flux magnitudes in observations and the simulation agree to within a factor of about 1.4 and 2.4 for vertical mode-1 and mode-2, respectively. The difference in energy flux computed from the full-depth model output versus model output subsampled at mooring instrument depths is small. The global historical archive is supplemented with six high-vertical resolution moorings from the Internal Waves Across the Pacific (IWAP) experiment. The model fluxes agree more closely with the high-resolution IWAP fluxes than with the historical mooring fluxes. The high variability in internal tide energy fluxes implies that internal tide fluxes computed from short observational records should be regarded as realizations of a highly variable field, not as "means" that are indicative of conditions at the measurement sites over all time.

Zhao, Z, Alford MH, Girton JB, Rainville L, Simmons HL.  2016.  Global observations of open-ocean mode-1 M2 internal tides. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:1657-1684. AbstractWebsite

AbstractA global map of open-ocean mode-1 M2 internal tides is constructed using sea surface height (SSH) measurements from multiple satellite altimeters during 1992–2012, representing a 20-yr coherent internal tide field. A two-dimensional plane wave fit method is employed to 1) suppress mesoscale contamination by extracting internal tides with both spatial and temporal coherence and 2) separately resolve multiple internal tidal waves. Global maps of amplitude, phase, energy, and flux of mode-1 M2 internal tides are presented. The M2 internal tides are mainly generated over topographic features, including continental slopes, midocean ridges, and seamounts. Internal tidal beams of 100–300 km width are observed to propagate hundreds to thousands of kilometers. Multiwave interference of some degree is widespread because of the M2 internal tide’s numerous generation sites and long-range propagation. The M2 internal tide propagates across the critical latitudes for parametric subharmonic instability (28.8°S/N) with little energy loss, consistent with the 2006 Internal Waves across the Pacific (IWAP) field measurements. In the eastern Pacific Ocean, the M2 internal tide loses significant energy in propagating across the equator; in contrast, little energy loss is observed in the equatorial zones of the Atlantic, Indian, and western Pacific Oceans. Global integration of the satellite observations yields a total energy of 36 PJ (1 PJ = 1015 J) for all the coherent mode-1 M2 internal tides. Finally, satellite observed M2 internal tides compare favorably with field mooring measurements and a global eddy-resolving numerical model.

MacKinnon, JA, Nash JD, Alford MH, Lucas AJ, Mickett JB, Shroyer EL, Waterhouse AF, Tandon A, Sengupta D, Mahadevan A, Ravichandran M, Pinkel R, Rudnick DL, Whalen CB, Alberty MS, Lekha JS, Fine EC, Chaudhuri D, Wagner GL.  2016.  A tale of two spicy seas. Oceanography. 29:50-61. AbstractWebsite

Upper-ocean turbulent heat fluxes in the Bay of Bengal and the Arctic Ocean drive regional monsoons and sea ice melt, respectively, important issues of societal interest. In both cases, accurate prediction of these heat transports depends on proper representation of the small-scale structure of vertical stratification, which in turn is created by a host of complex submesoscale processes. Though half a world apart and having dramatically different temperatures, there are surprising similarities between the two: both have (1) very fresh surface layers that are largely decoupled from the ocean below by a sharp halocline barrier, (2) evidence of interleaving lateral and vertical gradients that set upper-ocean stratification, and (3) vertical turbulent heat fluxes within the upper ocean that respond sensitively to these structures. However, there are clear differences in each ocean's horizontal scales of variability, suggesting that despite similar background states, the sharpening and evolution of mesoscale gradients at convergence zones plays out quite differently. Here, we conduct a qualitative and statistical comparison of these two seas, with the goal of bringing to light fundamental underlying dynamics that will hopefully improve the accuracy of forecast models in both parts of the world.