Observations of Turbulence in the Ocean Surface Boundary Layer: Energetics and Transport Academic Article uri icon


  • Abstract Observations of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) dynamics in the ocean surface boundary layer are presented here and compared with results from previous observational, numerical, and analytic studies. As in previous studies, the dissipation rate of TKE is found to be higher in the wavy ocean surface boundary layer than it would be in a flow past a rigid boundary with similar stress and buoyancy forcing. Estimates of the terms in the turbulent kinetic energy equation indicate that, unlike in a flow past a rigid boundary, the dissipation rates cannot be balanced by local production terms, suggesting that the transport of TKE is important in the ocean surface boundary layer. A simple analytic model containing parameterizations of production, dissipation, and transport reproduces key features of the vertical profile of TKE, including enhancement near the surface. The effective turbulent diffusion coefficient for heat is larger than would be expected in a rigid-boundary boundary layer. This diffusion coefficient is predicted reasonably well by a model that contains the effects of shear production, buoyancy forcing, and transport of TKE (thought to be related to wave breaking). Neglect of buoyancy forcing or wave breaking in the parameterization results in poor predictions of turbulent diffusivity. Langmuir turbulence was detected concurrently with a fraction of the turbulence quantities reported here, but these times did not stand out as having significant differences from observations when Langmuir turbulence was not detected.

publication date

  • May 1, 2009