Submesoscale Water-Mass Spectra in the Sargasso Sea

E. Kunze, J. M. Klymak, R.-C. Lien, R. Ferrari, C. M. Lee, M. A. Sundermeyer, L. Goodman
2015 Journal of Physical Oceanography  
Submesoscale stirring contributes to the cascade of tracer variance from large to small scales. Multiple nested surveys in the summer Sargasso Sea with tow-yo and autonomous platforms captured submesoscale water-mass variability in the seasonal pycnocline at 20-60-m depths. To filter out internal waves that dominate dynamic signals on these scales, spectra for salinity anomalies on isopycnals were formed. Salinitygradient spectra are approximately flat with slopes of 20.2 6 0.2 over horizontal
more » ... avelengths of 0.03-10 km. While the two to three realizations presented here might be biased, more representative measurements in the literature are consistent with a nearly flat submesoscale passive tracer gradient spectrum for horizontal wavelengths in excess of 1 km. A review of mechanisms that could be responsible for a flat passive tracer gradient spectrum rules out (i) quasigeostrophic eddy stirring, (ii) atmospheric forcing through a relict submesoscale winter mixed layer structure or nocturnal mixed layer deepening, (iii) a downscale vortical-mode cascade, and (iv) horizontal diffusion because of shear dispersion of diapycnal mixing. Internal-wave horizontal strain appears to be able to explain horizontal wavenumbers of 0.1-7 cycles per kilometer (cpkm) but not the highest resolved wavenumbers (7-30 cpkm). Submesoscale subduction cannot be ruled out at these depths, though previous observations observe a flat spectrum well below subduction depths, so this seems unlikely. Primitive equation numerical modeling suggests that nonquasigeostrophic subinertial horizontal stirring can produce a flat spectrum. The last need not be limited to mode-one interior or surface Rossby wavenumbers of quasigeostrophic theory but may have a broaderband spectrum extending to smaller horizontal scales associated with frontogenesis and frontal instabilities as well as internal waves.
doi:10.1175/jpo-d-14-0108.1 fatcat:mxk3hajqcfawbhnnjm64vwrwve