Breaking internal lee waves at Kaena Ridge, Hawaii

Alford, MH, Klymak JM, Carter GS.  2014.  Breaking internal lee waves at Kaena Ridge, Hawaii. Geophysical Research Letters. 41:906-912.

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4255 Numerical modeling, 4544 Internal and inertial waves, 4568 Turbulence, diffusion, and mixing processes, hydraulics, internal waves, mixing


Shallow water oscillatory flows and deep ocean steady flows have both been observed to give rise to breaking internal lee waves downstream of steep seafloor obstacles. A recent theory also predicts the existence of high-mode oscillatory internal lee waves in deep water, but they have not previously been directly observed. Here we present repeated spatial transects of velocity, isopycnal displacement, and dissipation rate measured with towed instruments on the south flank of a supercritical ridge in Hawaii known as Kaena Ridge and compare them with predictions from a 3-D numerical model with realistic tidal forcing, bathymetry, and stratification. The measured and modeled flow and turbulence agree well in their spatial structure, time dependence, and magnitude, confirming the existence and predicted nature of high-mode internal lee waves. Turbulence estimated from Thorpe scales increases 2 orders of magnitude following downslope tidal flow, when the internal lee wave begins to propagate upslope and breaks.