Breaking of internal waves and turbulent dissipation in an anticyclonic mode water eddy


A 4-month glider mission was analyzed to assess turbulent dissipation in an anticyclonic eddy at the western boundary of the subtropical North Atlantic. The eddy (radius ≈ 60 km) had a core of low potential vorticity between 100 and 450 m, with maximum radial velocities of 0.5 m s−1 and Rossby number ≈ −0.1. Turbulent dissipation was inferred from vertical water velocities derived from the glider flight model. Dissipation was suppressed in the eddy core (ε ≈ 5 × 10−10 W kg−1) and enhanced below it (>10−9 W kg−1). Elevated dissipation was coincident with quasiperiodic structures in the vertical velocity and pressure perturbations, suggesting internal waves as the drivers of dissipation. A heuristic ray-tracing approximation was used to investigate the wave–eddy interactions leading to turbulent dissipation. Ray-tracing simulations were consistent with two types of wave–eddy interactions that may induce dissipation: the trapping of near-inertial wave energy by the eddy’s relative vorticity, or the entry of an internal tide (generated at the nearby continental slope) to a critical layer in the eddy shear. The latter scenario suggests that the intense mesoscale field characterizing the western boundaries of ocean basins might act as a “leaky wall” controlling the propagation of internal tides into the basin’s interior.

J. Phys. Ocean.
Eleanor Frajka-Williams
Eleanor Frajka-Williams
Professor of Ocean Dynamics in a Changing Climate

I am a physical oceanographer who uses ocean observations to investigate ocean dynamics and circulation in a changing climate. I have a particular interest in problems spanning scales (from micro- to large-scale) or spheres (biogeosphere, cryosphere, atmosphere), and in methods that leverage traditional observations with new platforms and satellite data.