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

Thorpe, SA, Malarkey J, Voet G, Alford MH, Girton JB, Carter GS.  2018.  Application of a model of internal hydraulic jumps. Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 834:125-148. AbstractWebsite

A model devised by Thorpe & Li (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 758, 2014, pp. 94-120) that predicts the conditions in which stationary turbulent hydraulic jumps can occur in the flow of a continuously stratified layer over a horizontal rigid bottom is applied to, and its results compared with, observations made at several locations in the ocean. The model identifies two positions in the Samoan Passage at which hydraulic jumps should occur and where changes in the structure of the flow are indeed observed. The model predicts the amplitude of changes and the observed mode 2 form of the transitions. The predicted dissipation of turbulent kinetic energy is also consistent with observations. One location provides a particularly well-defined example of a persistent hydraulic jump. It takes the form of a 390 m thick and 3.7 km long mixing layer with frequent density inversions separated from the seabed by some 200 m of relatively rapidly moving dense water, thus revealing the previously unknown structure of an internal hydraulic jump in the deep ocean. Predictions in the Red Sea Outflow in the Gulf of Aden are relatively uncertain. Available data, and the model predictions, do not provide strong support for the existence of hydraulic jumps. In the Mediterranean Outflow, however, both model and data indicate the presence of a hydraulic jump.

Zhao, ZX, Alford MH, Simmons HL, Brazhnikov D, Pinkel R.  2018.  Satellite investigation of the M-2 Internal Tide in the Tasman Sea. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 48:687-703. AbstractWebsite

The M-2 internal tide in the Tasman Sea is investigated using sea surface height measurements made by multiple altimeter missions from 1992 to 2012. Internal tidal waves are extracted by two-dimensional plane wave fits in 180 km by 180 km windows. The results show that the Macquarie Ridge radiates three internal tidal beams into the Tasman Sea. The northern and southern beams propagate respectively into the East Australian Current and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current and become undetectable to satellite altimetry. The central beam propagates across the Tasman Sea, impinges on the Tasmanian continental slope, and partially reflects. The observed propagation speeds agree well with theoretical values determined from climatological ocean stratification. Both the northern and central beams refract about 158 toward the equator because of the beta effect. Following a concave submarine ridge in the source region, the central beam first converges around 45.5 degrees S, 155.5 degrees E and then diverges beyond the focal region. The satellite results reveal two reflected internal tidal beams off the Tasmanian slope, consistent with previous numerical simulations and glider measurements. The total energy flux from the Macquarie Ridge into the Tasman Sea is about 2.2 GW, of which about half is contributed by the central beam. The central beam loses little energy in its first 1000-km propagation, for which the likely reasons include flat bottom topography and weak mesoscale eddies.

Waterhouse, AF, Kelly SM, Zhao Z, MacKinnon JA, Nash JD, Simmons H, Brahznikov D, Rainville L, Alford M, Pinkel R.  2018.  Observations of the Tasman Sea internal tide beam. Journal of Physical Oceanography. 48:1283-1297. Abstract

AbstractLow-mode internal tides, a dominant part of the internal wave spectrum, carry energy over large distances, yet the ultimate fate of this energy is unknown. Internal tides in the Tasman Sea are generated at Macquarie Ridge, south of New Zealand, and propagate northwest as a focused beam before impinging on the Tasmanian continental slope. In situ observations from the Tasman Sea capture synoptic measurements of the incident semidiurnal mode-1 internal-tide, which has an observed wavelength of 183 km and surface displacement of approximately 1 cm. Plane-wave fits to in situ and altimetric estimates of surface displacement agree to within a measurement uncertainty of 0.3 cm, which is the same order of magnitude as the nonstationary (not phase locked) mode-1 tide observed over a 40-day mooring deployment. Stationary energy flux, estimated from a plane-wave fit to the in situ observations, is directed toward Tasmania with a magnitude of 3.4 ± 1.4 kW m−1, consistent with a satellite estimate of 3.9 ± 2.2 kW m−1. Approximately 90% of the time-mean energy flux is due to the stationary tide. However, nonstationary velocity and pressure, which are typically 1/4 the amplitude of the stationary components, sometimes lead to instantaneous energy fluxes that are double or half of the stationary energy flux, overwhelming any spring–neap variability. Despite strong winds and intermittent near-inertial currents, the parameterized turbulent-kinetic-energy dissipation rate is small (i.e., 10−10 W kg−1) below the near surface and observations of mode-1 internal tide energy-flux convergence are indistinguishable from zero (i.e., the confidence intervals include zero), indicating little decay of the mode-1 internal tide within the Tasman Sea.

Hamann, MM, Alford MH, Mickett JB.  2018.  Generation and propagation of nonlinear internal waves in sheared currents over the Washington Continental Shelf. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 123:2381-2400. AbstractWebsite

The generation, propagation, and dissipation of nonlinear internal waves (NLIW) in sheared background currents is examined using 7 days of shipboard microstructure surveys and two moorings on the continental shelf offshore of Washington state. Surveys near the hypothesized generation region show semi-diurnal (D2) energy flux is onshore and that the ratio of energy flux to group speed times energy (F/cgE) increases sharply at the shelf break, suggesting that the incident D2 internal tide is partially reflected and partially transmitted. NLIW appear at an inshore mooring at the leading edge of the onshore phase of the baroclinic tide, consistent with nonlinear transformation of the shoaling internal tide as their generation mechanism. Of the D2 energy flux observed at the eastern extent of the generation region (13318 Wm(-1)), approximately 30% goes into the NLIW observed inshore (3611 Wm(-1)). Inshore of the moorings, 7 waves are tracked into shallow (30-40 m) water, where a vertically sheared, southward current becomes strong. As train-like waves propagate onshore, wave amplitudes of 25-30 m and energies of 5 MJ decrease to 12 m and 10 kJ, respectively. The observed direction of propagation rotates from 30 degrees N of E to approximate to 30 degrees S of E in the strongly sheared region. Linear ray tracing using the Taylor-Goldstein equation to incorporate parallel shear effects accounts for only a small portion of the observed rotation, suggesting that three-dimensionality of the wave crests and the background currents is important here.

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.