Oceanic vertical mixing: A review and a model with a nonlocal boundary layer parameterization Academic Article uri icon


  • If model parameterizations of unresolved physics, such as the variety of upper ocean mixing processes, are to hold over the large range of time and space scales of importance to climate, they must be strongly physically based. Observations, theories, and models of oceanic vertical mixing are surveyed, Two distinct regimes are identified: ocean mixing in the boundary layer near the surface under a variety of surface forcing conditions (stabilizing, destabilizing, and wind driven), and mixing in the ocean interior due to internal waves, shear instability, and double diffusion (arising from the different molecular diffusion rates of heat and salt). Mixing schemes commonly applied to the upper ocean are shown not to contain some potentially important boundary layer physics. Therefore a new parameterization of oceanic boundary layer mixing is developed to accommodate some of this physics. It includes a scheme for determining the boundary layer depth h, where the turbulent contribution to the vertical shear of a bulk Richardson number is parameterized. Expressions for diffusivity and nonlocal transport throughout the boundary layer are given. The diffusivity is formulated to agree with similarity theory of turbulence in the surface layer and is subject to the conditions that both it and its vertical gradient match the interior values at h. This nonlocal ‘’K profile parameterization” (KPP) is then verified and compared to alternatives, including its atmospheric counterparts. Its most important feature is shown to be the capability of the boundary layer to penetrate well into a stable thermocline in both convective and wind-driven situations. The diffusivities of the aforementioned three interior mixing processes are modeled as constants, functions of a gradient Richardson number (a measure of the relative importance of stratification to destabilizing shear), and functions of the double-diffusion density ratio, R(rho). Oceanic simulations of convective penetration, wind deepening, and diurnal cycling are used to determine appropriate values for various model parameters as weak functions of vertical resolution. Annual cycle simulations at ocean weather station Papa for 1961 and 1969-1974 are used to test the complete suite of parameterizations. Model and observed temperatures at all depths are shown to agree very well into September, after which systematic advective cooling in the ocean produces expected differences. It is argued that this cooling and a steady salt advection into the model are needed to balance the net annual surface heating and freshwater input. With these advections, good multiyear simulations of temperature and salinity can be achieved. These results and KPP simulations of the diurnal cycle at the Long-Term Upper Ocean Study (LOTUS) site are compared with the results of other models. It is demonstrated that the KPP model exchanges properties between the mixed layer and thermocline in a manner consistent with observations, and at least as well or better than alternatives.

publication date

  • 1994