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Radiation and Dissipation of Internal Waves Generated by Geostrophic Motions Impinging on Small-Scale Topography

Maxim Nikurashin, Ph.D., 2009
Raffaele Ferrari, Advisor

Observations and inverse models suggest that small-scale turbulent mixing is enhanced in the Southern Ocean in regions above rough topography. The enhancement extends 1 km above the topography suggesting that mixing is supported by breaking of gravity waves radiated from the ocean bottom. In other regions, gravity wave radiation by bottom topography has been primarily associated with the barotropic tide. In this study, we explore the alternative hypothesis that the enhanced mixing in the Southern Ocean is sustained by internal waves generated by geostrophic motions flowing over bottom topography. Weakly-nonlinear theory is used to describe the internal wave generation and the feedback of the waves on the zonally averaged flow. A major finding is that the waves generated at the ocean bottom at finite inverse Froude numbers drive vigorous inertial oscillations. The wave radiation and dissipation at equilibrium is therefore the result of both geostrophic flow and inertial oscillations and differs substantially from the classical lee wave problem. The theoretical predictions are tested versus two-dimensional and three-dimensional high resolution numerical simulations with parameters representative of the Drake Passage region. Theory and fully nonlinear numerical simulations are used to estimate internal wave radiation from LADCP, CTD and topography data from two regions in the Southern Ocean: Drake Passage and the Southeast Pacific. The results show that radiation and dissipation of internal waves generated by geostrophic motions reproduce the magnitude and distribution of dissipation measured in the region.