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.

Voet, G, Alford MH, Girton JB, Carter GS, Mickett JB, Klymak JM.  2016.  Warming and weakening of the abyssal flow through Samoan Passage. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:2389-2401. AbstractWebsite

The abyssal flow of water through the Samoan Passage accounts for the majority of the bottom water renewal in the North Pacific, thereby making it an important element of the meridional overturning circulation. Here the authors report recent measurements of the flow of dense waters of Antarctic and North Atlantic origin through the Samoan Passage. A 15-month long moored time series of velocity and temperature of the abyssal flow was recorded between 2012 and 2013. This allows for an update of the only prior volume transport time series from the Samoan Passage from WOCE moored measurements between 1992 and 1994. While highly variable on multiple time scales, the overall pattern of the abyssal flow through the Samoan Passage was remarkably steady. The time-mean northward volume transport of about 5.4 Sv (1 Sv = 10(6) m(3) s(-1)) in 2012/13 was reduced compared to 6.0 Sv measured between 1992 and 1994. This volume transport reduction is significant within 68% confidence limits (60.4 Sv) but not at 95% confidence limits (+/-0.6 Sv). In agreement with recent studies of the abyssal Pacific, the bottom flow through the Samoan Passage warmed significantly on average by 1 x 10(-38)Cyr(-1) over the past two decades, as observed both in moored and shipboard hydrographic observations. While the warming reflects the recently observed increasing role of the deep oceans for heat uptake, decreasing flow through Samoan Passage may indicate a future weakening of this trend for the abyssal North Pacific.

Chinn, BS, Girton JB, Alford MH.  2016.  The impact of observed variations in the shear-to-strain ratio of internal waves on inferred turbulent diffusivities. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:3299-3320. AbstractWebsite

The most comprehensive studies of the spatial and temporal scales of diffusivity rely on internal wave parameterizations that require knowledge of finescale shear and strain. Studies lacking either shear or strain measurements have to assume a constant ratio between shear and strain (R-omega). Data from 14 moorings collected during five field programs are examined to determine the spatial and temporal patterns in R-omega and the influence of these patterns on parameterized diffusivity. Time-mean R-omega ranges from 1 to 10, with changes of order 10 observed over a broad range of scales. Temporal variability in R-omega is observed at daily, weekly, and monthly scales. Observed changes in R-omega could produce a 2-3 times change in parameterized diffusivity. Vertical profiles of R-omega, E-shear, and E-strain (shear or strain variance relative to Garret-Munk) reveal that both local topographic properties and wind variability impact the internal wave field. Time series of R-omega from each mooring have strong correlations to either shear or strain, often only at a specific range of vertical wave-numbers. Sites fall into two categories, in which R-omega variability is dominated by either shear or strain. Linear fits to the dominant property (i.e., shear or strain) can be used to estimate a time series of R-omega that has an RMS error that is 30% less than the RMS error from assuming R-omega = 3. Shear and strain level vary in concert, as predicted by the Garret-Munk model, at high E-shear values. However, at E-shear, 5, strain variations are 3 times weaker than shear.

Klymak, JM, Simmons HL, Braznikov D, Kelly S, MacKinnon JA, Alford MH, Pinkel R, Nash JD.  2016.  Reflection of linear internal tides from realistic topography: The Tasman continental slope. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 46:3321-3337. AbstractWebsite

The reflection of a low-mode internal tide on the Tasman continental slope is investigated using simulations of realistic and simplified topographies. The slope is supercritical to the internal tide, which should predict a large fraction of the energy reflected. However, the response to the slope is complicated by a number of factors: the incoming beam is confined laterally, it impacts the slope at an angle, there is a roughly cylindrical rise directly offshore of the slope, and a leaky slope-mode wave is excited. These effects are isolated in simulations that simplify the topography. To separate the incident from the reflected signal, a response without the reflector is subtracted from the total response to arrive at a reflected signal. The real slope reflects approximately 65% of themode-1 internal tide asmode 1, less than two-dimensional linear calculations predict, because of the three-dimensional concavity of the topography. It is also less than recent glider estimates, likely as a result of along-slope inhomogeneity. The inhomogeneity of the response comes from the Tasman Rise that diffracts the incoming tidal beam into two beams: one focused along beam and one diffracted to the north. Along-slope inhomogeneity is enhanced by a partially trapped, superinertial slope wave that propagates along the continental slope, locally removing energy from the deep-water internal tide and reradiating it into the deep water farther north. This wave is present even in a simplified, straight slope topography; its character can be predicted from linear resonance theory, and it represents up to 30% of the local energy budget.

Alford, MH, MacKinnon JA, Simmons HL, Nash JD.  2016.  Near-inertial internal gravity waves in the ocean. Annual Review of Marine Science, Vol 8. 8( Carlson CA, Giovannoni SJ, Eds.).:95-123., Palo Alto: Annual Reviews Abstract

We review the physics of near-inertial waves (NIWs) in the ocean and the observations, theory, and models that have provided our present knowledge. NIWs appear nearly everywhere in the ocean as a spectral peak at and just above the local inertial period f, and the longest vertical wavelengths can propagate at least hundreds of kilometers toward the equator from their source regions; shorter vertical wavelengths do not travel as far and do not contain as much energy, but lead to turbulent mixing owing to their high shear. NIWs are generated by a variety of mechanisms, including the wind, nonlinear interactions with waves of other frequencies, lee waves over bottom topography, and geostrophic adjustment; the partition among these is not known, although the wind is likely the most important. NIWs likely interact strongly with mesoscale and submesoscale motions, in ways that are just beginning to be understood.