Direct observations of microscale turbulence and thermohaline structure in the Kuroshio Front Academic Article uri icon


  • Direct observations of microstructure near the Kuroshio Front were conducted in August 2008 and October 2009. These show negative potential vorticity (PV) in the mixed layer south of the front, where directly measured turbulent kinetic energy dissipation rates are an order magnitude larger than predicted by wind-scaling. These elevated dissipation rates scale better with an empirical scaling, which considers local wind and Ekman buoyancy flux driven by downfront wind. Near-zero PV in the thermocline under the Kuroshio mainstream is observed at 200–300 m depth, with dissipation exceeding open ocean thermocline values by factors of 10–100. Overall, the large turbulent dissipation rates measured in the Kuroshio can be categorized into two groups, one characterized by low Richardson number along the Kuroshio Front thermocline, and the other characterized by high stratification away from the Kuroshio mainstream. The former is attributed to mixing by unbalanced frontal ageostrophic flows, and the latter is attributed to internal wave breaking. On average, both groups appear in regions of large horizontal density gradients. Observed thermohaline structure shows low salinity tongues from the surface to over 300 m depth and deep cold tongues, extending upward from 500 to 100 m depth in a narrow (20 km) zone, suggesting down and upwelling driven by geostrophic straining, which is confirmed by Quasigeostrophic-Omega equation solutions. This implies that adiabatic along isopycnal subduction and diabatic diapycnal turbulent mixing acting in tandem at the Kuroshio Front likely contribute to NPIW formation.

publication date

  • August 2012