Revisiting the Generation of Internal Waves by Resonant Interaction with Surface Waves

Dirk.Olbers [ at ]


Two surface waves can interact to produce an internal gravity wave by nonlinear resonant coupling. The process has been called spontaneous creation (SC) because it operates without internal waves being initially present. Previous studies have shown that the generated internal waves have high frequency close to the local Brunt–Väisälä frequency and wavelengths that are much larger than those of the participating surface waves, and that the spectral transfer rate of energy to the internal wave field is small compared to other generation processes. The aim of the present analysis is to provide a global map of the energy transfer into the internal wave field by surface–internal wave interaction, which is found to be about 10 23 TW in total, based on a realistic wind-sea spectrum (depending on wind speed), mixed layer depths, and stratification below the mixed layer takenfrom a state-of-the-art numericalocean model.Unlikepreviouscalculationsof the spectral transfer rate based on a vertical mode decomposition, the authors use an analytical framework that directly derives the energy flux of generated internal waves radiating downward from the mixed layer base. Since the radiated waves are of high frequency, they are trapped and dissipated in the upper ocean. The radiative flux thus feeds only a small portion of the water column, unlike in cases of wind-driven near-inertial waves that spread over the entire ocean depth before dissipating. The authors also give an estimate of the interior dis- sipation and implied vertical diffusivities due to this process. In an extended appendix, they review the modal description of the SC interaction process, completed by the corresponding counterpart, the modulation in- teraction process (MI), where a preexisting internal wave is modulated by a surface wave and interacts with another one. MI establishes a damping of the internal wave field, thus acting against SC. The authors show that SC overcomes MI for wind speeds exceeding about 10m/s.

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DOI 10.1175/JPO-D-15-0064.1

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Olbers, D. and Eden, C. (2016): Revisiting the Generation of Internal Waves by Resonant Interaction with Surface Waves , Journal of Physical Oceanography, 46 , pp. 2335-2350 . doi: 10.1175/JPO-D-15-0064.1

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