A reflecting, steepening, and breaking internal tide in a submarine canyon

Alberty, MS, Billheimer S, Hamann MM, Ou CY, Tamsitt V, Lucas AJ, Alford MH.  2017.  A reflecting, steepening, and breaking internal tide in a submarine canyon. Journal of Geophysical Research-Oceans. 122:6872-6882.

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currents, hawaii, monterey canyon, ocean, overturns, propagation, scales, sloping boundaries, thorpe, waves


Submarine canyons are common features of the coastal ocean. Although they are known to be hotspots of turbulence that enhance diapycnal transport in their stratified waters, the dynamics of canyon mixing processes are poorly understood. Most studies of internal wave dynamics within canyons have focused on a handful of canyons with along-axis slopes less steep than semidiurnal (D-2) internal wave characteristics (subcritical). Here, we present the first tidally resolving observations within a canyon with a steeply sloping axis (supercritical). A process study consisting of two 24 h shipboard stations and a profiling mooring was conducted in the La Jolla Canyon off the coast of La Jolla, CA. Baroclinic energy flux is oriented up-canyon and decreases from 182 +/- 18 W m(-1) at the canyon mouth to 46 +/- 5 W m(-1) near the head. The ratio of horizontal kinetic energy to available potential energy and the observed group speed of each mode are lower than expected for freely propagating D-2 internal waves at each station, indicating partial reflection. Harmonic analysis reveals that variance is dominated by the D-2 tide. Moving up-canyon, the relative importance of D-2 decreases and its higher harmonics are needed to account for a majority of the observed variance, indicating steepening. Steep internal tides cause large isopycnal displacements (approximate to 50 m in 100 m water depth) and high strain events. These events coincide with enhanced O( 10-7-10-5 m(2) s(-3)) dissipation of turbulent kinetic energy at mid-depths.