Drift and mixing under the ocean surface: A coherent one-dimensional description with application to unstratified conditions Academic Article uri icon


  • Waves have many effects on near-surface dynamics: Breaking waves enhance mixing, waves are associated with a Lagrangian mean drift (the Stokes drift), waves act on the mean flow by creating Langmuir circulations and a return flow opposite to the Stokes drift, and, last but not least, waves modify the atmospheric surface roughness. A realistic ocean model is proposed to embrace all these aspects, focusing on near-surface mixing and surface drift associated with the wind and generated waves. The model is based on the generalized Lagrangian mean that separates the momentum into a wave pseudomomentum and a quasi-Eulerian momentum. A wave spectrum with a reasonably high frequency range is used to compute the Stokes drift. A turbulent closure scheme based on a single evolution equation for the turbulent kinetic energy includes the mixing due to breaking wave effects and wave-turbulence interactions. The roughness length of the closure scheme is adjusted using observations of turbulent kinetic energy near the surface. The model is applied to unstratified and horizontally uniform conditions, showing good agreement with observations of strongly mixed quasi-Eulerian currents near the surface when waves are developed. Model results suggest that a strong surface shear persists in the drift current because of the Stokes drift contribution. In the present model the surface drift only reaches 1.5% of the wind speed. It is argued that stratification and the properties of drifting objects may lead to a supplementary drift as large as 1% of the wind speed.

publication date

  • 2006