Abyssal Mixing from Bottom Boundary Effects in Mid-Atlantic Ridge Flank Canyons

Rebecca W. Dell, S.M., 2010
Lawrence Pratt, Advisor

This paper begins to explore a previously neglected mechanism for abyssal ocean mixing using bottom boundary layer dynamics. Abyssal mixing and the associated upward buoyancy fluxes are necessary to balance the sinking of dense waters at high latitudes and to close the global overturning circulation. Previous studies have concentrated on the hypothesis that the primary mechanism for this mixing is breaking internal waves generated by tidal flows over rough topography.  However, intriguing observations, particularly from the Brazil Basin Tracer Release Experiment, suggest that mixing in the flank canyons of the Mid-Atlantic Ridge generated when strong mean flows interact with the many sills and constrictions within the canyons may represent a dynamically important amount of abyssal mixing. The energy pathways and mechanisms of this mixing are much less clear than in the case of breaking internal waves. This study attempts to clarify this by suggesting an analogy with an idealized diffusive boundary layer over a sloping bottom. This boundary layer is characterized by up-slope flows powered by the buoyancy flux in the fluid far from the boundary. Here we explore the energy budget of the boundary layer, and find that the diff usive boundary layer provides flows that are generally consistent with those observed in submarine canyons. In addition, we derive the vertical velocity in the far-field fluid, analogous to an Ekman pumping velocity, that these boundary layers can induce when the bottom slope is not constant. Finally, we present both theoretical and numerical models of exchange flows between the bottom boundary and the far-field flow when the bottom slope is not constant. These exchange flows provide a mechanism by which boundary-driven mixing can a ect the overall stratification and buoyancy fluxes of the basin interior.