Resolving the horizontal direction of internal tide generation

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Abstract

The mixing induced by breaking internal gravity waves is an important contributor to the ocean's energy budget, shaping, inter alia, nutrient supply, water mass transformation and the large-scale overturning circulation. Much of the energy input into the internal wave field is supplied by the conversion of barotropic tides at rough bottom topography, which hence needs to be described realistically in internal gravity wave models and mixing parametrisations based thereon. A new semi-analytical method to describe this internal wave forcing, calculating not only the total conversion but also the direction of this energy flux, is presented. It is based on linear theory for variable stratification and finite depth, that is, it computes the energy flux into the different vertical modes for two-dimensional, subcritical, small-amplitude topography and small tidal excursion. A practical advantage over earlier semi-analytical approaches is that the new one gives a positive definite conversion field. Sensitivity studies using both idealised and realistic topography allow the identification of suitable numerical parameter settings and corroborate the accuracy of the method. This motivates the application to the global ocean in order to better account for the geographical distribution of diapycnal mixing induced by low-mode internal gravity waves, which can propagate over large distances before breaking. The first results highlight the significant differences of energy flux magnitudes with direction, confirming the relevance of this more detailed approach for energetically consistent mixing parametrisations in ocean models. The method used here should be applicable to any physical system that is described by the standard wave equation with a very wide field of sources.

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Pollmann, F., Nycander, J., Eden, C., & Olbers, D. (2019). Resolving the horizontal direction of internal tide generation. Journal of Fluid Mechanics, 864, 381–407. https://doi.org/10.1017/jfm.2019.9

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