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Matthew Alford

Affiliate Principal Oceanographer

Affiliate Professor, Oceanography



Research Interests

Ocean dynamics (including internal waves, the mixed layer, abyssal overflows and turbulence) and their impact on the global circulation and coastal ecosystems


Dr. Alford is a seagoing physical oceanographer. Whether purchased off the shelf or built by him and/or others at the Laboratory, he employs specialized instruments to better describe and understand processes that occur on scales, say, < 10 km; however, he is also interested in how these affect both coastal processes and the larger-scale circulation. His research focuses on 1) process studies of these phenomena themselves, 2) instrument development, 3) observational techniques to better study them, and 4) the specific ways in which they affect global-scale phenomena as well as biological/chemical processes such as anoxia. In 2002 Alford received the Office of Naval Research's prestigious Young Investigator Program (YIP) Award, and in 2009 received the University of Washington College of Fishery and Ocean Sciences' Distinguished Research Award. He has over 70 refereed publications in top-tier journals including Nature and Journal of Physical Oceanography, and has led several ambitious experiments funded by the Office of Naval Research and the National Science Foundation.

Department Affiliation

Ocean Physics


B.A. Astrophysics, Swarthmore College, 1993

Ph.D. Oceanography, Scripps Institution of Oceanography, 1998


Tasmania Internal Tide Experiment

The Tasmanian continental slope will be instrumented with a range of tools including moored profiler, chi-pods, CTDs, and gliders to understand the process, strength, and distribution of ocean mixing from breaking internal waves.

27 Nov 2011

Samoan Passage Abyssal Mixing

The Samoan Passage, 5500 m beneath the sea surface, is one of the "choke points" in the abyssal circulation. A veritable river of Antarctic Bottom water flows through it on its way into the North Pacific. As it enters the constriction, substantial turbulence, hydraulic processes and internal waves must occur, which modify the water. The overall goal is to understand these deep processes and the way they impact the flow, and to develop a strategy for eventually monitoring the flow through the Passage.

27 Sep 2011

Washington Real-time Coastal Moorings (NEMO)

The Northwest Enhanced Moored Observatory (NEMO), which consists of a heavily-instrumented real-time surface mooring (Cha Ba), a real-time subsurface profiling mooring (NEMO-Subsurface) and a Seaglider to collect spatial information, aims to improve our understanding of complex physical, chemical and biological processes on the largely unsampled Washington shelf.

27 Sep 2011

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Internal Waves in Straits Experiment (IWISE)

With field work in the summers of 2010 and 2011, this project focuses on understanding the mechanisms controlling the generation of internal tides in the two-ridge system of Luzon Strait, along with their propagation, contribution to mixing (dissipation) and interaction with the Kuroshio.

27 Sep 2011

Hawaii Ocean Time Series (HOT) Profiler

We have developed a system of inductively charging a McLane profiler from a large bank of underwater batteries (actually 5100 "D" cells). The goal is to enable the profiler to profile the entire water column every hour or so for a whole year, which represents a ten-fold advance over current capabilities.

27 Sep 2011

Global Internal Tides from Altimetry

This collaborative project with Dr. Harper Simmons (U. Alaska), aims to construct a global map of low-mode internal tide energy flux and dissipation by application of state-of-the-art techniques to a combination of satellite altimetry, moorings, and a numerical model.

27 Sep 2011

Intrusions in the North Pacific Subtropical Frontal Zone

A field study of the interleaving features in the Subtropical Frontal Zone (STFZ) of the North Pacific Ocean was conducted from in July 2007. The experiment encompassed hydrographic surveying with a towed depth-cycling conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) platform SWIMS, microstructure profiling, shipboard velocity observations, and
Lagrangian float releases.

6 Apr 2011

Generation, Propagation, and Dissipation of the Internal Tide in Monterey Submarine Canyon

An intensive research program in the Monterey Submarine Canyon that combines observations and numerical modelling to understand internal tide dynamics in the canyon is led by APL-UW and Univ. of Hawaii oceanographers.



Ocean Acidification

Scientists from APL-UW and NOAA are studying the changing pH of Washington's coastal waters. Puget Sound may be hit hard and fast by the threat of ocean acidification.

3 Oct 2013

NEMO Deployment and Shelf Science Cruise

The primary purpose of the cruise is to deploy the NEMO (Northwest Enhanced Moored Observatory) moorings off the Washington coast in water about 100 m deep. While at sea, the team will also conduct science experiments to detect and track non-linear internal waves (NLIWs) traveling across the continental shelf break. Surveys with an echo sounder and the towed body SWIMS will be run from the shelf break toward the mooring location as well as in the Juan de Fuca Canyon.

16 Apr 2013

Wave Chasers: Deep Flows Through the Samoan Passage

The 'Wave Chasers' research team cruised the South Pacific Ocean to study the Samoan Passage — a 5500-m deep choke point that Antarctic bottom water must flow through on its way to the North Pacific. Three movies chronicle the expedition's motivations & methods, the fun of crushing objects under the pressures of the abyssal ocean, and the cultural exchanges with Samoans on Upolu Island.

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22 Feb 2012

"Instruments & Measurements," movie #1, explains the motivation and experimental design to study Antarctic bottom water as it flows through the constriction of the Samoan Passage. The flow is modified by substantial turbulence, hydraulic processes, and internal waves.

Movie #2, "Crush Cam," documents how Oceanographers Matthew Alford and John Mickett are always looking for better ways to share scientific research with the public. They came up with this "Crush Cam." It's a video camera mounted to the instrument package that is lower from the ship and the sea surface to varying depths in the Samoan Passage — it's a way to video objects under extreme pressure.

The third movie, "Cultural Exchanges," follows the Wave Chasers as they visit the village of LufiLufi on the north coast of Upolu Island.

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2000-present and while at APL-UW

Global observations of open-ocean mode-1 M2 internal tides

Zhao, Z., M.H. Alford, J.B. Girton, L. Rainville, and H.L. Simmons, "Global observations of open-ocean mode-1 M2 internal tides," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 46, 1657-1684, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-15-0105.1, 2016.

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1 Jun 2016

A global map of open-ocean mode-1 M2 internal tides is constructed using sea-surface height (SSH) measurements from multiple satellite altimeters during 1992–2012, representing a 20-year coherent internal tide field. A two-dimensional plane wave fit method is employed to (1) suppress mesoscale contamination by extracting internal tides with both spatial and temporal coherence, and (2) separately resolve multiple internal tidal waves. Global maps of amplitude, phase, energy and flux of mode-1 M2 internal tides are presented. M2 internal tides are mainly generated over topographic features including continental slopes, mid-ocean ridges and seamounts. Internal tidal beams of 100–300 km width are observed to propagate hundreds to thousands of km. Multi-wave interference of some degree is widespread, due to the M2 internal tide's numerous generation sites and long-range propagation. The M2 internal tide propagates across the critical latitudes for parametric subharmonic instability (28.8°S/N) with little energy loss, consistent with field measurements by MacKinnon et al. (2013). In the eastern Pacific Ocean, the M2 internal tide loses significant energy in propagating across the Equator; in contrast, little energy loss is observed in the equatorial zones of the Atlantic, Indian, and western Pacific oceans. Global integration of the satellite observations yields a total energy of 36 PJ (1 PJ = 1015 J) for the coherent mode-1 M2 internal tide. The satellite observed M2 internal tides compare favorably with field mooring measurements and a global eddy-resolving numerical model.

An inductive charging and real-time communications system for profiling moorings

Alford, M.H., T. McGinnis, and B.M. Howe, "An inductive charging and real-time communications system for profiling moorings," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 32, 2243-2252, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-15-0103.1, 2015.

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1 Dec 2015

We describe a system for providing power and communications to moored profiling vehicles. A McLane Moored Profiler (MP) was equipped with a rechargeable battery pack and an inductive charging system to allow it to move periodically to a charging dock at the top of the subsurface mooring. Power was provided from a large bank of alkaline batteries housed in two 0.95-m steel spheres. Data were transferred inductively from the profiler to a mooring controller, and from there back to shore via radio and Iridium satellite modems housed in a small surface communications float on an "L" tether. An acoustic modem provided backup communications to a nearby ship in the event of loss or damage to the surface float. The system was tested in a 180-m-deep fjord (Puget Sound, WA) and at station ALOHA, a 4748-m deep open-ocean location north of Hawaii. Basic functionality of the system was demonstrated, with the Profiler repeatedly recharging at about 300W (with an overall efficiency of about 70%). Data were relayed back to shore via Iridium, and to a nearby ship via the radio and acoustic modems. The system profiled flawlessly for the entire 6-week test in Puget Sound, but charging at the deep site stopped after only 9 days in the deep-ocean deployment owing to damage to the charging station, possibly by surface wave action.

Instabilities in nonlinear internal waves on the Washington continental shelf

Zhang, S., and M.H. Alford, "Instabilities in nonlinear internal waves on the Washington continental shelf," J. Geophys. Res., 120, 5272-5283, doi:10.1002/2014JC010638, 2015.

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31 Jul 2015

Previous studies have identified two primary mechanisms (shear instability and convective instability) by which nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs) induce mixing on continental shelves. To determine the relative importance of these and their dependence on background flow conditions, we examine a much longer (6 month) data set from a moored ADCP/thermistor chain with 2 m vertical spacing in which over 600 NLIWs are detected. Turbulent properties of the 318 waves with detectable overturning instabilities are documented using Thorpe scales. The 130 waves detected while an ADCP was functioning are classified based on a Froude number criterion (Fr). Of these, 108 waves are identified as shear-instability (Type I; Fr <1) waves and 22 as convective instability (Type II; Fr 1). Composites are constructed by averaging in a wave coordinate frame over all waves in each category, showing the mean spatial structure of dissipation and other wave quantities. Turbulence is highest at the sheared interface for Type I waves and throughout the wave core for Type II waves. No relationship between wave instability mechanisms and wave/background parameters such as wave steepness, stratification, or mean flow is found, except that unstable waves tend to be more energetic, demonstrating a need to better understand wave propagation and breaking in complex and variable coastal oceanographic background flows.

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The formation and fate of internal waves in the South China Sea

Alford, M.H., et al., including R.-C. Lien and L. Rainville, "The formation and fate of internal waves in the South China Sea," Nature, 521, 65-69, doi:10.1038/nature14399, 2015.

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29 Apr 2015

Internal gravity waves, the subsurface analogue of the familiar surface gravity waves that break on beaches, are ubiquitous in the ocean. Because of their strong vertical and horizontal currents, and the turbulent mixing caused by their breaking, they affect a panoply of ocean processes, such as the supply of nutrients for photosynthesis1, sediment and pollutant transport2 and acoustic transmission3; they also pose hazards for man-made structures in the ocean4. Generated primarily by the wind and the tides, internal waves can travel thousands of kilometres from their sources before breaking5, making it challenging to observe them and to include them in numerical climate models, which are sensitive to their effects6, 7. For over a decade, studies8, 9, 10, 11 have targeted the South China Sea, where the oceans’ most powerful known internal waves are generated in the Luzon Strait and steepen dramatically as they propagate west. Confusion has persisted regarding their mechanism of generation, variability and energy budget, however, owing to the lack of in situ data from the Luzon Strait, where extreme flow conditions make measurements difficult. Here we use new observations and numerical models to (1) show that the waves begin as sinusoidal disturbances rather than arising from sharp hydraulic phenomena, (2) reveal the existence of >200-metre-high breaking internal waves in the region of generation that give rise to turbulence levels >10,000 times that in the open ocean, (3) determine that the Kuroshio western boundary current noticeably refracts the internal wave field emanating from the Luzon Strait, and (4) demonstrate a factor-of-two agreement between modelled and observed energy fluxes, which allows us to produce an observationally supported energy budget of the region. Together, these findings give a cradle-to-grave picture of internal waves on a basin scale, which will support further improvements of their representation in numerical climate predictions.

Pathways, volume transport, and mixing of abyssal water in the Samoan Passage

Voet, G., J.B. Girton, M.H. Alford, G.S. Carter, J.M. Klymak, and J.B. Mickett, "Pathways, volume transport, and mixing of abyssal water in the Samoan Passage," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 45, 562-588, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-14-0096.1, 2015.

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1 Feb 2015

The flow of dense water through the Samoan Passage accounts for the major part of the bottom water renewal in the North Pacific and is thus an important element of the Pacific meridional overturning circulation. A recent set of highly resolved measurements used CTD/LADCP, a microstructure profiler, and moorings to constrain the complex pathways and variability of the abyssal flow. Volume transport estimates for the dense northward current at several sections across the passage, calculated using direct velocity measurements from LADCPs, range from 3.9 x 106 to 6.0 x 106 ± 1 x 106 m3 s-1. The deep channel to the east and shallower pathways to the west carried about equal amounts of this volume transport, with the densest water flowing along the main eastern channel. Turbulent dissipation rates estimated from Thorpe scales and direct microstructure agree to within a factor of 2 and provide a region-averaged value of O(10-8) W kg-1 for layers colder than 0.8°C. Associated diapycnal diffusivities and downward turbulent heat fluxes are about 5 x 10-3 m2 s-1 and O(10) W m-2, respectively. However, heat budgets suggest heat fluxes 2–6 times greater. In the vicinity of one of the major sills of the passage, highly resolved Thorpe-inferred diffusivity and heat flux were over 10 times larger than the region-averaged values, suggesting the mismatch is likely due to undersampled mixing hotspots.

Characteristics, generation and mass transport of nonlinear internal waves on the Washington continental shelf

Zhang, S., M.H. Alford, and J.B. Mickett, "Characteristics, generation and mass transport of nonlinear internal waves on the Washington continental shelf," J. Geophys. Res., 120, 741-758, do:10.1002/2014JC010393, 2015.

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1 Feb 2015

As a step toward better understanding the generation of nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs) on continental shelves and the factors determining their morphology, amplitude and propagation, we analyze more than 1500 NLIWs detected on the Washington (WA) continental shelf using four summer/fall time series of temperature and velocity measurements from a surface mooring deployed in 100 m of water. Propagating onshore toward the northeast, these NLIWs take a variety of forms, including internal solitary waves, solitary wave trains and bores. Nearly all are mode-1 depression waves that arrive semidiurnally along with the internal tide. The NLIW energy flux is correlated with the internal tide energy flux but not the local barotropic forcing, implying that the observed NLIWs arise primarily from shoaling remotely generated internal tides rather than local generation. Estimated onshore transport by the waves can equal or exceed offshore Ekman transport, suggesting the waves may play an important role in the mass balance on the continental shelf.

Global patterns of diapycnal mixing from measurements of the turbulent dissipation rate

Waterhouse, A.F., et al., including M.H. Alford, E. Kunze, T.B. Sanford, and C.M. Lee, "Global patterns of diapycnal mixing from measurements of the turbulent dissipation rate," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 44, 1854-1872, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-13-0104.1, 2014.

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1 Jul 2014

The authors present inferences of diapycnal diffusivity from a compilation of over 5200 microstructure profiles. As microstructure observations are sparse, these are supplemented with indirect measurements of mixing obtained from (i) Thorpe-scale overturns from moored profilers, a finescale parameterization applied to (ii) shipboard observations of upper-ocean shear, (iii) strain as measured by profiling floats, and (iv) shear and strain from full-depth lowered acoustic Doppler current profilers (LADCP) and CTD profiles. Vertical profiles of the turbulent dissipation rate are bottom enhanced over rough topography and abrupt, isolated ridges. The geography of depth-integrated dissipation rate shows spatial variability related to internal wave generation, suggesting one direct energy pathway to turbulence. The global-averaged diapycnal diffusivity below 1000-m depth is O(10-4) m2 s-1 and above 1000-m depth is O(10-5) m2 s-1. The compiled microstructure observations sample a wide range of internal wave power inputs and topographic roughness, providing a dataset with which to estimate a representative global-averaged dissipation rate and diffusivity. However, there is strong regional variability in the ratio between local internal wave generation and local dissipation. In some regions, the depth-integrated dissipation rate is comparable to the estimated power input into the local internal wave field. In a few cases, more internal wave power is dissipated than locally generated, suggesting remote internal wave sources. However, at most locations the total power lost through turbulent dissipation is less than the input into the local internal wave field. This suggests dissipation elsewhere, such as continental margins.

Transition from partly standing to progressive internal tides in Monterey Submarine Canyon

Hall, R.A., M.H. Alford, G.S. Carter, M.C. Gregg, R.-C. Lien, D.J. Wain, and Z. Zhao, "Transition from partly standing to progressive internal tides in Monterey Submarine Canyon," Deep Sea Res. II, 104, 164-173, doi:10.1016/j.dsr2.2013.05.039, 2014.

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1 Jun 2014

Monterey Submarine Canyon is a large, sinuous canyon off the coast of California, the upper reaches of which were the subject of an internal tide observational program using moored profilers and upward-looking moored ADCPs. The mooring observations measured a near-surface stratification change in the upper canyon, likely caused by a seasonal shift in the prevailing wind that favoured coastal upwelling. This change in near-surface stratification caused a transition in the behaviour of the internal tide in the upper canyon from a partly standing wave during pre-upwelling conditions to a progressive wave during upwelling conditions. Using a numerical model, we present evidence that either a partly standing or a progressive internal tide can be simulated in the canyon, simply by changing the initial stratification conditions in accordance with the observations. The mechanism driving the transition is a dependence of down-canyon (supercritical) internal tide reflection from the canyon floor and walls on the depth of maximum stratification. During pre-upwelling conditions, the main pycnocline extends down to 200 m (below the canyon rim) resulting in increased supercritical reflection of the up-canyon propagating internal tide back down the canyon. The large up-canyon and smaller down-canyon progressive waves are the two components of the partly standing wave. During upwelling conditions, the pycnocline shallows to the upper 50 m of the watercolumn (above the canyon rim) resulting in decreased supercritical reflection and allowing the up-canyon progressive wave to dominate.

Flow and mixing in Juan de Fuca Canyon, Washington

Alford, M.H., and P. MacCready, "Flow and mixing in Juan de Fuca Canyon, Washington," Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 1608-1615, doi:10.1002/2013GL058967, 2014.

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16 Mar 2014

We report breaking internal lee waves, strong mixing, and hydraulic control associated with wind-driven up-canyon flow in Juan de Fuca Canyon, Washington. Unlike the flow above the canyon rim, which shows a tidal modulation typical on continental shelves, the flow within the canyon is persistently up-canyon during our observations, with isopycnals tilted consistent with a geostrophic cross-canyon momentum balance. As the flow encounters a sill near the canyon entrance at the shelf break, it accelerates significantly and undergoes elevated mixing on the upstream and downstream sides of the sill. On the downstream side, a strong lee wave response is seen, with displacements of O(100 m) and overturns tens of meters high. The resulting diffusivity is O(10-2 m2 s-1), sufficient to substantially modify coastal water masses as they transit the canyon and enter the Salish Sea estuarine system.

Three dimensional double ridge internal tide resonance in Luzon Strait

Buijsman, M.C., J.M. Klymak, S. Legg, M.H. Alford, D. Farmer, J.A. MacKinnon, J.D. Nash, J.-H. Park, A. Pickering, and H. Simmons, "Three dimensional double ridge internal tide resonance in Luzon Strait," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 44, 850-869, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-13-024.1, 2013.

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1 Mar 2014

The three-dimensional (3D) double ridge internal tide interference in Luzon Strait in the South China Sea is examined by comparing 3D and 2D (two-dimensional) realistic simulations. Both the 3D simulations and observations indicate the presence of 3D first-mode (semi)diurnal standing waves in the 3.6 km deep trench in the Strait. As in an earlier 2D study, barotropic to baroclinic energy conversion, flux divergence, and dissipation are greatly enhanced when semidiurnal tides dominate relative to periods dominated by diurnal tides. The resonance in the 3D simulation is several times stronger than the 2D simulations for the central Strait. Idealized experiments indicate that, in addition to ridge height, the resonance is only a function of separation distance, and not of the along ridge length, i.e. the enhanced resonance in 3D is not caused by 3D standing waves or basin modes. Instead, the difference in resonance between the 2D and 3D simulations is attributed to the topographic blocking of the barotropic flow by the 3D ridges, affecting wave generation, and a more constructive phasing between the remotely generated internal waves, arriving under oblique angles, and the barotropic tide. Most of the resonance occurs for the first mode. The contribution of the higher modes is reduced because of 3D radiation, multiple generation sites, scattering, and a rapid decay in amplitude away from the ridge.

Three-dimensional double-ridge internal tide resonance in Luzon Strait

Buijsman, M.C., J.M. Klymak, S. Legg, M.H. Alford, D. Farmer, J.A. Mackinnon, J.D. Nash, J.-H. Park, A. Pickering, and H. Simmons, "Three-dimensional double-ridge internal tide resonance in Luzon Strait," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 44, 850-869, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-13-024.1, 2014.

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1 Mar 2014

The three-dimensional (3D) double-ridge internal tide interference in the Luzon Strait in the South China Sea is examined by comparing 3D and two-dimensional (2D) realistic simulations. Both the 3D simulations and observations indicate the presence of 3D first-mode (semi)diurnal standing waves in the 3.6-km-deep trench in the strait. As in an earlier 2D study, barotropic-to-baroclinic energy conversion, flux divergence, and dissipation are greatly enhanced when semidiurnal tides dominate relative to periods dominated by diurnal tides. The resonance in the 3D simulation is several times stronger than in the 2D simulations for the central strait. Idealized experiments indicate that, in addition to ridge height, the resonance is only a function of separation distance and not of the along-ridge length; that is, the enhanced resonance in 3D is not caused by 3D standing waves or basin modes. Instead, the difference in resonance between the 2D and 3D simulations is attributed to the topographic blocking of the barotropic flow by the 3D ridges, affecting wave generation, and a more constructive phasing between the remotely generated internal waves, arriving under oblique angles, and the barotropic tide. Most of the resonance occurs for the first mode. The contribution of the higher modes is reduced because of 3D radiation, multiple generation sites, scattering, and a rapid decay in amplitude away from the ridge.

Breaking internal lee waves at Kaena Ridge, Hawaii

Alford, M.H., J.M. Klymak, and G.S. Carter, "Breaking internal lee waves at Kaena Ridge, Hawaii," Geophys. Res. Lett., 41, 906-912, doi:10.1002/2013GL059070, 2014.

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16 Feb 2014

Shallow water oscillatory flows and deep ocean steady flows have both been observed to give rise to breaking internal lee waves downstream of steep seafloor obstacles. A recent theory also predicts the existence of high-mode oscillatory internal lee waves in deep water, but they have not previously been directly observed. Here we present repeated spatial transects of velocity, isopycnal displacement, and dissipation rate measured with towed instruments on the south flank of a supercritical ridge in Hawaii known as Kaena Ridge and compare them with predictions from a 3-D numerical model with realistic tidal forcing, bathymetry, and stratification. The measured and modeled flow and turbulence agree well in their spatial structure, time dependence, and magnitude, confirming the existence and predicted nature of high-mode internal lee waves. Turbulence estimated from Thorpe scales increases 2 orders of magnitude following downslope tidal flow, when the internal lee wave begins to propagate upslope and breaks.

Wind-driven submesoscale subduction at the north Pacific subtropical front

Hosegood, P.J., M.C. Gregg, and M.H. Alford, "Wind-driven submesoscale subduction at the north Pacific subtropical front," J. Geophys. Res., 118, 5333-5352, doi:10.1002/jgrc.20385, 2013.

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1 Oct 2013

Upper ocean observations from the north Pacific subtropical front during late winter demonstrate the generation of submesoscale intrusions by buoyancy loss. Prior to generation, a sharp thermohaline front was intensified by confluent flow of 1–2 x 10-5 s-1. Relative vertical vorticity across a surface-intensified, along-front jet on the warm side of a frontal trough was 0.5 f. During the storm, buoyancy loss arose due to cooling of ~650 W m-2 and down-front wind stress <0.5 N m-2 that generated a southward, cross-front Ekman transport of dense water over light. The resulting wind-driven buoyancy flux was concentrated at the front where it exceeded that due to convection by an order of magnitude. The intrusions appeared immediately following the storm both within the surface mixed layer and beneath the seasonal pycnocline. They were approximately 20 m thick and horizontally elongated in the cross-frontal direction. The near-surface intrusions had cool and fresh properties characteristic of the water underlying the seasonal pycnocline, whereas the subsurface intrusions were composed of warm and saline water from the surface. The apparent vertical exchange was constrained within a thin filament of 2 km zonal extent that was characterized by O(1) Rossby and Richardson numbers, pronounced cyclonic veering in the horizontal velocity throughout the surface mixed layer, and sloping isopycnals. The intrusion properties, background environmental context, and forcing history are consistent with prior numerical modeling results for the generation of ageostrophic vertical circulations by frontogenesis intensified by buoyancy loss, possibly resulting in symmetric instability.

Turbulent mixing and hydraulic control of abyssal water in the Samoan Passage

Alford, M.H., J.B. Girton, G. Voet, G.S. Carter, J.B. Mickett, and J.M. Klymak, "Turbulent mixing and hydraulic control of abyssal water in the Samoan Passage," Geophys. Res. Lett., 40, 4668-4674, doi:10.1002/grl.50684, 2013.

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16 Sep 2013

We report the first direct turbulence observations in the Samoan Passage (SP), a 40-km wide notch in the South Pacific bathymetry through which flows most of the water supplying the North Pacific abyssal circulation. The observed turbulence is 1000 to 10,000 times typical abyssal levels — strong enough to completely mix away the densest water entering the passage — confirming inferences from previous coarser temperature and salinity sections. Accompanying towed measurements of velocity and temperature with horizontal resolution of about 250 m indicate the dominant processes responsible for the turbulence. Specifically, the flow accelerates substantially at the primary sill within the passage, reaching speeds as great as 0.55 m s-1. A strong hydraulic response is seen, with layers first rising to clear the sill and then plunging hundreds of meters downward. Turbulence results from high shear at the interface above the densest fluid as it descends and from hydraulic jumps that form downstream of the sill. In addition to the primary sill, other locations along the multiple interconnected channels through the Samoan Passage also have an effect on the mixing of the dense water. In fact, quite different hydraulic responses and turbulence levels are observed at seafloor features separated laterally by a few kilometers, suggesting that abyssal mixing depends sensitively on bathymetric details on small scales.

Internal tidal energy fluxes in the South China Sea from density and velocity measurements by gliders

Johnston, T.M.S., D.L. Rudnick. M.H. Alford, A. Pickering, and H.L. Simmons, "Internal tidal energy fluxes in the South China Sea from density and velocity measurements by gliders," J. Geophys. Res., 118, 3939-3949, doi:10.1002/jgrc.20311, 2013.

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1 Aug 2013

Internal tidal energy fluxes were obtained from June 2011 to August 2011 using underwater gliders in the South China Sea. Spray gliders profiled every ~2 h to 500 m, which is deep enough given the shallow thermocline to compute mode-1 fluxes from vertical mode fits to tidal displacements and currents. Westward, mode-1 diurnal and semidiurnal fluxes exceeded 40 and 30 kW m-1. To our knowledge, these flux observations are the first from both velocity and density measurements by gliders. Fluxes compare well with a mooring near a generation site in southern Luzon Strait and a regional model. Furthermore, the zonal-depth structure of the internal tide is obtained by binning measurements, which cover four spring-neap cycles and over 100 km along 20°39'N. Westward phase propagation is found for currents and displacements, while roughly constant phase is found along beams. Both these features of the phase suggest a narrow-banded internal tide. Semidiurnal energy density is largest along a raypath which coincides with generation sites on both the eastern and western ridges in Luzon Strait. Diurnal energy density is surface-intensified consistent with relatively shallower diurnal raypaths emanating from the eastern ridge.

Observations of near-inertial internal gravity waves radiating from a frontal jet

Alford, M.H., A.Y. Shcherbina, and M.C. Gregg, "Observations of near-inertial internal gravity waves radiating from a frontal jet," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 43, 1225-1239, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-12-0146.1, 2013.

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1 Jun 2013

Shipboard ADCP and towed CTD measurements are presented of a near-inertial internal gravity wave radiating away from a zonal jet associated with the Subtropical Front in the North Pacific. Three-dimensional spatial surveys indicate persistent alternating shear layers sloping downward and equatorward from the front. As a result, depth-integrated ageostrophic shear increases sharply equatorward of the front. The layers have a vertical wavelength of about 250 m and a slope consistent with a wave of frequency 1.01 f. They extend at least 100 km south of the front. Time series confirm that the shear is associated with a downward-propagating near-inertial wave with frequency within 20% of f. A slab mixed layer model forced with shipboard and NCEP reanalysis winds suggests that wind forcing was too weak to generate the wave. Likewise, trapping of the near-inertial motions at the low-vorticity edge of the front can be ruled out because of the extension of the features well south of it. Instead, the authors suggest that the wave arises from an adjustment process of the frontal flow, which has a Rossby number about 0.2–0.3.

Internal bores and breaking internal tides on the Oregon continental slope

Martini, K.I., M.H. Alford, E. Kunze, S.M. Kelly, and J.D. Nash, "Internal bores and breaking internal tides on the Oregon continental slope," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 43, 120-139, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-12-030.1, 2013.

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1 Jan 2013

We present observations of breaking internal tides on the Oregon continental slope during a 40-day deployment of 5 moorings along 43° 12' N. Remotely-generated internal tides shoal onto the slope, steepen, break and form turbulent bores that propagate upslope independently of the internal tide. A high-resolution snapshot of a single bore is captured from LADCP/CTD profiles in a 25-hour time-series at 1200 m. The bore is cold, salty, over 100-m tall and has a turbulent head where instantaneous dissipation rates are enhanced and sediment is resuspended. At the two deepest slope moorings (1452 and 1780-m), similar bore-like phenomena are observed in near-bottom high-resolution temperature time series. Mean dissipation rates and diapycnal diffusivities increase by a factor of 2 when bores are present and observed internal tides are energetic enough to drive these enhanced dissipation rates. Globally, we estimate an average of 1.3 kW m-1 of internal tide energy flux is directed onto continental slopes. On the Oregon slope, internal tide fluxes are smaller suggesting it is a relatively weak internal tide sink. Mixing associated with the breaking of internal tides are therefore likely to be larger on other continental slopes.

Parametric subharmonic instability of the internal tide at 29°N

MacKinnon, J.A., M.H. Alford, O. Sun, R. Pinkel, Z. Zhao, and J. Klymak, "Parametric subharmonic instability of the internal tide at 29°N," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 43, 17-28, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-0108.1, 2013.

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1 Jan 2013

Observational evidence is presented for transfer of energy from the internal tide to near-inertial motions near 29°N in the Pacific Ocean. The transfer is accomplished via parametric subharmonic instability (PSI), which involves interaction between a primary wave (the internal tide in this case) and two smaller-scale waves of nearly half the frequency. The internal tide at this location is a complex superposition of a low-mode waves propagating north from Hawaii and higher-mode waves generated at local seamounts, making application of PSI theory challenging. Nevertheless, a statistically significant phase locking is documented between the internal tide and upward- and downward-propagating near-inertial waves. The phase between those three waves is consistent with that expected from PSI theory. Calculated energy transfer rates from the tide to near-inertial motions are modest, consistent with local dissipation rate estimates. The conclusion is that while PSI does befall the tide near a critical latitude of 29°N, it does not do so catastrophically.

The latitudinal dependence of shear and mixing in the Pacific transiting the critical latitude for PSI

MacKinnon, J.A., M.H. Alford, R. Pinkel, J. Klymak, and Z. Zhao, "The latitudinal dependence of shear and mixing in the Pacific transiting the critical latitude for PSI," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 43, 3-16, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-0107.1, 2013.

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1 Jan 2013

Turbulent mixing rates are inferred from measurements spanning 25°–37°N in the Pacific Ocean. The observations were made as part of the Internal Waves Across the Pacific experiment, designed to investigate the long-range fate of the low-mode internal tide propagating north from Hawaii. Previous and companion results argue that, near a critical latitude of 29°N, the internal tide loses energy to high-mode near-inertial motions through parametric subharmonic instability. Here, the authors estimate mixing from several variations of the finescale shear–strain parameterization, as well as Thorpe-scale analysis of overturns. Though all estimated diffusivities are modest in magnitude, average diffusivity in the top kilometer shows a factor of 2%u20134 elevation near and equatorward of 29°N. However, given intrinsic uncertainty and the strong temporal variability of diffusivity observed in long mooring records, the meridional mixing pattern is found to be near the edge of statistical significance.

Internal tides and mixing in a submarine canyon with time-varying stratification

Zhao, Z., M.H. Alford, R.-C. Lien, M.C. Gregg, and G.S. Carter, "Internal tides and mixing in a submarine canyon with time-varying stratification," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 42, 2121-2142, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-12-045.1, 2012.

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1 Dec 2012

The time variability of the energetics and turbulent dissipation of internal tides in the upper Monterey Submarine Canyon (MSC) is examined with three moored profilers and five ADCP moorings spanning February–April 2009. Highly resolved time series of velocity, energy, and energy flux are all dominated by the semidiurnal internal tide and show pronounced spring-neap cycles. However, the onset of springtime upwelling winds significantly alters the stratification during the record, causing the thermocline depth to shoal from about 100 to 40 m. The time-variable stratification must be accounted for because it significantly affects the energy, energy flux, the vertical modal structures, and the energy distribution among the modes. The internal tide changes from a partly horizontally standing wave to a more freely propagating wave when the thermocline shoals, suggesting more reflection from up canyon early in the observational record. Turbulence, computed from Thorpe scales, is greatest in the bottom 50–150 m and shows a spring-neap cycle. Depth-integrated dissipation is 3 times greater toward the end of the record, reaching 60 mW m-2 during the last spring tide. Dissipation near a submarine ridge is strongly tidally modulated, reaching 10-5 W kg-1 (10–15-m overturns) during spring tide and appears to be due to breaking lee waves. However, the phasing of the breaking is also affected by the changing stratification, occurring when isopycnals are deflected downward early in the record and upward toward the end.

The cascade of tidal energy from low to high modes on a continental slope

Kelly, S.M., J.D. Nash, K.I. Martini, M.H. Alford, and E. Kunze, "The cascade of tidal energy from low to high modes on a continental slope," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 42, 1217-1232, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-0231.1, 2012.

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1 Jul 2012

The linear transfer of tidal energy from large to small scales is quantified for small tidal excursion over a near-critical continental slope. A theoretical framework for low-wavenumber energy transfer is derived from "flat bottom" vertical modes and evaluated with observations from the Oregon continental slope. To better understand the observations, local tidal dynamics are modeled with a superposition of two idealized numerical simulations, one forced by local surface-tide velocities and the other by an obliquely incident internal tide generated at the Mendocino Escarpment 315 km southwest of the study site. The simulations reproduce many aspects of the observed internal tide and verify the modal-energy balances. Observed transfer of tidal energy into high-mode internal tides is quantitatively consistent with observed turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) dissipation. Locally generated and incident simulated internal tides are superposed with varying phase shifts to mimic the effects of the temporally varying mesoscale. Altering the phase of the incident internal tide alters (i) internal-tide energy flux, (ii) internal-tide generation, and (iii) energy conversion to high modes, suggesting that tidally driven TKE dissipation may vary between 0 and 500 watts per meter of coastline on 3–5-day time scales. Comparison of observed in situ internal-tide generation and satellite-derived estimates of surface-tide energy loss is inconclusive.

An introduction to the special issue on internal waves

St. Laurent, L., M.H. Alford, and T. Paluszkiewicz, "An introduction to the special issue on internal waves," Oceanography, 25, 15-19, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2012.37, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

This special issue of Oceanography presents a survey of recent work on internal waves in the ocean. The undersea analogue to the surface waves we see breaking on beaches, internal waves play an important role in transferring heat, energy, and momentum in the ocean. When they break, the turbulence they produce is a vital aspect of the ocean's meridional overturning circulation. Numerical circulation models must parameterize internal waves and their breaking because computers will likely never be powerful enough to simultaneously resolve climate and internal wave scales. The demonstrated sensitivity of these models to the magnitude and distribution of internal wave-driven mixing is the primary motivation for the study of oceanic internal waves. Because internal waves can travel far from their source regions to where they break, progress requires understanding not only their generation but also their propagation through the eddying ocean and the processes that eventually lead to their breaking. Additionally, in certain regions such as near coasts and near strong generation regions, internal waves can develop into sharp fronts wherein the thermocline dramatically shoals hundreds of meters in only a few minutes. These "nonlinear" internal waves can have horizontal currents of several knots (1 knot is roughly 2 meters per second), and are strong enough to significantly affect surface navigation of vessels. Vertical current anomalies often reach one knot as well, posing issues for subsurface navigation and engineering structures associated with offshore energy development. Finally, the upwelling and turbulent mixing supported by internal waves can be vital for transporting nutrient-rich fluid into coastal ecosystems such as coral reefs. Below, we provide a very brief introduction to some of the central concepts discussed in the 14 articles that make up the special issue section, and then put each of these articles in context.

Annual cycle and depth penetration of wind-generated near-inertial internal waves at Ocean Station Papa in the Northeast Pacific

Alford, M.H., M.F. Cronin, and J.M. Klymak, "Annual cycle and depth penetration of wind-generated near-inertial internal waves at Ocean Station Papa in the Northeast Pacific," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 42, 889-909, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-11-092.1, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

The downward propagation of near-inertial internal waves following winter storms is examined in the context of a 2-yr record of velocity in the upper 800 m at Ocean Station Papa. The long time series allow accurate estimation of wave frequency, whereas the continuous data in depth allow separation into upward- and downward-propagating components. Near-inertial kinetic energy (KEin) dominates the record. At all measured depths, energy in downgoing motions exceeds that of upward-propagating motions by factors of 3–7, whereas KEin is elevated by a factor of 3–5 in winter relative to summer. The two successive winters are qualitatively similar but show important differences in timing and depth penetration. Energy is seen radiating downward in a finite number of wave groups, which are tagged and catalogued to determine the vertical group velocity cgz, which has a mean of about 1.5 x 10-4 m s-1 (13 m day-1). Case studies of three of these are presented in detail.

Downward energy flux is estimated as cgz x KEin (i) by summing over the set of events, (ii) from time series near the bottom of the record, and (iii) from the wavenumber–frequency spectrum and the dispersion relationship. These estimates are compared to the work done on near-inertial motions in the mixed layer by the wind, which is directly estimated from mixed layer near-inertial currents and winds measured from a surface buoy 10 km away. All three methods yield similar values, indicating that 12%–33% of the energy input into the mixed layer transits 800 m toward the deep sea. This simple picture neglects lateral energy flux carried by the first few vertical modes, which was not measured. The substantial deep penetration implies that near-inertial motions may play a role in mixing the deep ocean, but the strong observed variability calls for a need to better understand the role of lateral mesoscale structures in modulating the vertical propagation.

Internal waves on the Washington continental shelf

Alford, M.H., J.B. Mickett, S. Zhang, P. MacCready, Z. Zhao, and J. Newton, "Internal waves on the Washington continental shelf," Oceanography, 25, 66-79, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2012.43, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

The low-frequency oceanography of the Washington continental shelf has been studied in great detail over the last several decades owing in part to its high productivity but relatively weak upwelling winds compared to other systems. Interestingly, though many internal wave-resolving measurements have been made, there have been no reports on the region's internal wave climate and the possible feedbacks between internal waves and lower-frequency processes. This paper reports observations over two summers obtained from a new observing system of two moorings and a glider on the Washington continental shelf, with a focus on internal waves and their relationships to lower-frequency currents, stratification, dissolved oxygen, and nutrient distributions. We observe a rich, variable internal wave field that appears to be modulated in part by a coastal jet and its response to the region's frequent wind reversals. The internal wave spectral level at intermediate frequencies is consistent with the model spectrum of Levine (2002) developed for continental shelves. Superimposed on this continuum are (1) a strong but highly temporally variable semidiurnal internal tide field and (2) an energetic field of high-frequency nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs). Mean semidiurnal energy flux is about 80 W m-1 to the north-northeast. The onshore direction of the flux and its lack of a strong spring/neap cycle suggest it is at least partly generated remotely. Nonlinear wave amplitudes reach 38 m in 100 m of water, making them among the strongest observed on continental shelves of similar depth. They often occur each 12.4 hours, clearly linking them to the tide. Like the internal tide energy flux, the NLIWs are also directed toward the north-northeast. However, their phasing is not constant with respect to either the baroclinic or barotropic currents, and their amplitude is uncorrelated with either internal-tide energy flux or barotropic tidal forcing, suggesting substantial modulation by the low-frequency currents and stratification.

Mapping low-mode internal tides from multisatellite altimetry

Zhao, Z., M.H. Alford, and J.B. Girton, "Mapping low-mode internal tides from multisatellite altimetry," Oceanography, 25, 42-51, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2012.40, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

Low-mode internal tides propagate over thousands of kilometers from their generation sites, distributing tidal energy across the ocean basins. Though internal tides can have large vertical displacements (often tens of meters or more) in the ocean interior, they deflect the sea surface only by several centimeters. Because of the regularity of the tidal forcing, this small signal can be detected by state-of-the-art, repeat-track, high-precision satellite altimetry over nearly the entire world ocean. Making use of combined sea surface height measurements from multiple satellites (which together have denser ground tracks than any single mission), it is now possible to resolve the complex interference patterns created by multiple internal tides using an improved plane-wave fit technique. As examples, we present regional M2 internal tide fields around the Mariana Arc and the Hawaiian Ridge and in the North Pacific Ocean. The limitations and some perspective on the multisatellite altimetric methods are discussed.

Simulating the long-range swell of internal waves generated by ocean storms

Simmons, H.L., and M.H. Alford, "Simulating the long-range swell of internal waves generated by ocean storms," Oceanography, 25, 30-41, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2012.39, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

Near-inertial waves (NIWs) are a special class of internal gravity waves with periods set by planetary rotation and latitude (e.g., at 30° latitude, one cycle per 24 hours). They are notable because they contain most of the observed shear in the ocean and around half the kinetic energy. As such, they have been demonstrated to mix the upper ocean and to have the potential to mix the deep ocean enough to be important for climate simulations. NIWs are principally generated as a result of a resonant coupling between upper-ocean currents and mid-latitude atmospheric cyclones. Here, we report on simulated NIWs in an eddy-resolving general circulation model that is forced by a realistic atmosphere, and we make comparisons to NIWs observed from moored and shipboard measurements of currents. The picture that emerges is that as much as 16% of NIW energy (which is season dependent) radiates out of the mixed layer and equatorward in the form of low-mode, long-lived internal gravity waves; they transmit energy thousands of kilometers from their regions of generation. The large amount of energy in near-inertial motions at a given site is a combination of a local response to wind forcing and waves that have traveled far from where they were generated.

The direct breaking of internal waves at steep topography

Klymak, J.M., S. Legg, M.H. Alford, M. Buijsman, R. Pinkel, J.D. Nash, "The direct breaking of internal waves at steep topography," Oceanography, 25, 150-159, doi: 10.5670/oceanog.2012.50, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

Internal waves are often observed to break close to the seafloor topography that generates them, or from which they scatter. This breaking is often spectacular, with turbulent structures observed hundreds of meters above the seafloor, and driving turbulence dissipations and mixing up to 10,000 times open-ocean levels. This article provides an overview of efforts to observe and understand this turbulence, and to parameterize it near steep "supercritical" topography (i.e., topography that is steeper than internal wave energy characteristics). Using numerical models, we demonstrate that arrested lee waves are an important turbulence-producing phenomenon. Analogous to hydraulic jumps in water flowing over an obstacle in a stream, these waves are formed and then break during each tidal cycle. Similar lee waves are also observed in the atmosphere and in shallow fjords, but in those cases, their wavelengths are of similar scale to the topography, whereas in the ocean, they are small compared to the water depth and obstacle size. The simulations indicate that these nonlinear lee waves propagate against the generating flow (usually the tide) and are arrested because they have the same phase speed as the oncoming flow. This characteristic allows estimation of their size a priori and, using a linear model of internal tide generation, computation of how much energy they trap and turn into turbulence. This approach yields an accurate parameterization of mixing in numerical models, and these models are being used to guide a new generation of observations.

Velocity structure of internal tide beams emanating from Kaena Ridge, Hawaii

Pickering, A., and M.H. Alford, "Velocity structure of internal tide beams emanating from Kaena Ridge, Hawaii," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 42, 1039-1044, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-12-018.1, 2012.

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1 Jun 2012

Observations are reported of the semidiurnal (M2) internal tide across Kaena Ridge, Hawaii. Horizontal velocity in the upper 1000–1500 m was measured during eleven ~240-km-long shipboard acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) transects across the ridge, made over the course of several months. The M2 motions are isolated by means of harmonic analysis and compared to numerical simulations using the Princeton Ocean Model (POM). The depth coverage of the measurements is about 3 times greater than similar past studies, offering a substantially richer view of the internal tide beams. Sloping features are seen extending upward north and south from the ridge and then downward from the surface reflection about ±40 km from the ridge crest, closely matching theoretical M2 ray paths and the model predictions.

Observations of internal waves and parametric subharmonic instability in the Philippines archipelago

Chinn, B.S., J.B. Girton, and M.H. Alford, "Observations of internal waves and parametric subharmonic instability in the Philippines archipelago," J. Geophys. Res., 117, doi:10.1029/2011JC007392, 2012.

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12 May 2012

Internal waves contain a significant fraction of the kinetic energy in the ocean and are important intermediaries between the forcing (by wind and tide) and interior diapycnal mixing. We report here on measurements from Mindoro Strait in the Philippines (connecting the South China Sea to the Sulu Sea) of an internal wave field with a number of surprising properties that point to previously-unrecognized processes at work in the region. Continuum spectral levels are very close to typical "background" values found in the open ocean, but internal tide energy in both the diurnal and semidiurnal frequency bands is significantly elevated—and higher at the northern mooring (MP1) than the southern (MP2). Two particularly energetic depth ranges stand out at MP1: an upper layer centered near 300 m, and one at the bottom of the water column, near 1800 m. The upper layer contains both internal tides and a near-inertial band with upward and downward propagating waves and an apparent spring-neap cycle. The combination is suggestive of Parametric Subharmonic Instability as the forcing for the near-inertial band—a conclusion supported by bicoherence estimates. Mixing, estimated from density overturns, is weak over much of the water column but enhanced by about an order of magnitude in the deep layer and closely tied to the internal tide—both diurnal and semidiurnal. Near-inertial currents in this deep layer are dominantly rectilinear and not well-correlated with the mixing. Bulk mixing rates at the two sites are less than required to produce property changes seen in hydrography, suggesting additional enhancement elsewhere in the archipelago.

Internal wave measurements on the Cycladic Plateau of the Aegean Sea

Alford, M.H., M.C. Gregg, V. Zervakis, and H. Kontoyiannis, "Internal wave measurements on the Cycladic Plateau of the Aegean Sea," J. Geophys. Res., 117, doi:10.1029/2011JC007488, 2012.

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25 Jan 2012

The internal wave climate in the southern Aegean Sea is examined with an array of two bottom-mounted acoustic Doppler current profilers and three profiling moorings deployed on the northern continental slope of the Cretan Sea for 3 months. Frequency spectra indicate an extremely weak internal wave continuum, about 4–10 times weaker than the Garrett-Munk and Levine reference levels. Spectra are instead dominated by semidiurnal internal tides and near-inertial waves, which are examined in detail by bandpass filtering. In the semidiurnal band, a barotropic tidal flow of –2 cm s-1 is observed, with a pronounced spring/neap modulation in phase with the lunar fortnightly cycle. One to two days following several of these spring tide periods, a distinct internal tide featuring 10–20 m vertical displacements and 15–20 cm s-1 baroclinic velocities is detectable propagating upward and to the southeast. Time-mean energy increases a factor of 2–5 within about 100 m from the bottom, implying generation and/or scattering from the bottom, whose slope is nearly critical to semidiurnal internal waves over much of the array. Several strong, downward propagating near-inertial events are also seen, each of which occurs following a period of work done by the wind on the mixed layer as estimated from a nearby surface mooring. The high-frequency internal wave continuum is more temporally constant but increases substantially toward the end of the deployment. Significant but unexplained differences in kinetic energy occur between successive spring tide periods in the case of the internal tides and between successive wind events in the case of the near-inertial signals. Substantial variability is observed in the low-frequency flows, which likely contributes to the time variability of the internal wave signals.

Mixing over the steep side of the Cycladic Plateau in the Aegean Sea

Gregg, M.C., M.H. Alford, H. Kontoyiannis, V. Zervakis, and D. Winkel, "Mixing over the steep side of the Cycladic Plateau in the Aegean Sea," J. Mar. Syst., 89, 30-47, doi:10.1016/j.marsys.2011.07.009, 2012.

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1 Jan 2012

Intensive microstructure sampling over the southern slope of the Cycladic Plateau found very weak mixing in the pycnocline, centered on a thin minimum of diapycnal diffusivity with Kρ=1.5 x 10-6 m2 s-1. Below the pycnocline, Kρ increased exponentially in the bottom 200 m, reaching 1 x 10-4 m2 s-1 a few meters above the bottom. Near-bottom mixing was most intense where the bottom slope equaled the characteristic slope of the semi-diurnal internal tide. This suggests internal wave scattering and/or generation at the bottom, a conclusion supported by near-bottom dissipation rates increasing following rising winds and with intensifying internal waves. Several pinnacles on the slope were local mixing hotspots. Signatures included a vertical line of strong mixing in a pinnacle's wake, an hydraulic jump or lee wave over a downstream side of the summit, and a 'beam' sloping upward at the near-inertial characteristic slope. Because dissipation rate averages were dominated by strong turbulence, ε/vN2 > 100, the effect on Kρ of alternate mixing efficiencies proposed for this range of turbulent intensity is explored.

Internal tides around the Hawaiian Ridge estimated from multisatellite altimetry

Zhao, Z., M.H. Alford, J. Girton, T.M.S. Johnston, and G. Carter, "Internal tides around the Hawaiian Ridge estimated from multisatellite altimetry," J. Geophys. Res., 116, doi:10.1029/2011JC007045, 2011.

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24 Dec 2011

Satellite altimetric sea surface height anomaly (SSHA) data from Geosat Follow-on (GFO) and European Remote Sensing (ERS), as well as TOPEX/Poseidon (T/P), are merged to estimate M2 internal tides around the Hawaiian Ridge, with higher spatial resolution than possible with single-satellite altimetry. The new estimates are compared with numerical model runs. Along-track analyses show that M2 internal tides can be resolved from both 8 years of GFO and 15.5 years of ERS SSHA data. Comparisons at crossover points reveal that the M2 estimates from T/P, GFO, and ERS agree well. Multisatellite altimetry improves spatial resolution due to its denser ground tracks. Thus M2 internal tides can be plane wave fitted in 120 km x 120 km regions, compared to previous single-satellite estimates in 4° lon x 3° lat or 250 km x 250 km regions. In such small fitting regions the weaker and smaller-scale mode 2 M2 internal tides can also be estimated.

The higher spatial resolution leads to a clearer view of the M2 internal tide field around the Hawaiian Ridge. Discrete generation sites and internal tidal beams are clearly distinguishable, and consistent with the numerical model runs. More importantly, multisatellite altimetry produces larger M2 internal tidal energy fluxes, which agree better with model results, than previous single-satellite estimates. This study confirms that previous altimetric underestimates are partly due to the more widely spaced ground tracks and consequently larger fitting region. Multisatellite altimetry largely overcomes this limitation.

From Luzon Strait to Dongsha Plateau: Stages in the life of an internal wave

Farmer, D.M., M.H. Alford, R.-C. Lien, Y.J. Yang, M.-H. Chang, and Q. Li, "From Luzon Strait to Dongsha Plateau: Stages in the life of an internal wave," Oceanography 24, 64-77, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2011.95, 2011.

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5 Dec 2011

Tidal currents in Luzon Strait south of Taiwan generate some of the largest internal waves anywhere in the ocean. Recent collaborative efforts between oceanographers from the United States and Taiwan explored the generation, evolution, and characteristics of these waves from their formation in the strait to their scattering and dissipation on Dongsha Plateau and the continental slope of mainland China. Nonlinear internal waves affect offshore engineering, navigation, biological productivity, and sediment resuspension. Observations within Luzon Strait identified exceptionally large vertical excursions of density (as expressed primarily in temperature profiles) and intense turbulence as tidal currents interact with submarine ridges. In the northern part of the strait, the ridge spacing is close to the internal semidiurnal tidal wavelength, allowing wave generation at both ridges to contribute to amplification of the internal tide. Westward radiation of semidiurnal internal tidal energy is predominant in the north, diurnal energy in the south. The competing effects of nonlinearity, which tends to steepen the stratification, and rotational dispersion, which tends to disperse energy into inertial waves, transform waves traveling across the deep basin of the South China Sea. Rotation inhibits steepening, especially for the internal diurnal tide, but despite the rotational effect, the semidiurnal tide steepens sufficiently so that nonhydrostatic effects become important, leading to the formation of a nonlinear internal wave train. As the waves encounter the continental slope and Dongsha Plateau, they slow down, steepen further, and are modified and scattered into extended wave trains. At this stage, the waves can "break," forming trapped cores. They have the potential to trap prey, which may account for their attraction to pilot whales, which are often seen following the waves as they advance toward the coast. Interesting problems remain to be explored and are the subjects of continuing investigations.

Energy flux and dissipation in Luzon Strait: Two tales of two ridges

Alford, M.H., J.A. MacKinnon, J.D. Nash, H. Simmons, A. Pickering, J.M. Klymak, R. Pinkel, O. Sun, L. Rainville, R. Musgrave, T. Beitzel, K.-H. Fu, and C.-W. Lu, "Energy flux and dissipation in Luzon Strait: Two tales of two ridges," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 41, 2211-2222, 2011.

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1 Nov 2011

Internal tide generation, propagation, and dissipation are investigated in Luzon Strait, a system of two quasi-parallel ridges situated between Taiwan and the Philippines. Two profiling moorings deployed for about 20 days and a set of nineteen 36-h lowered ADCP–CTD time series stations allowed separate measurement of diurnal and semidiurnal internal tide signals. Measurements were concentrated on a northern line, where the ridge spacing was approximately equal to the mode-1 wavelength for semidiurnal motions, and a southern line, where the spacing was approximately two-thirds that. The authors contrast the two sites to emphasize the potential importance of resonance between generation sites. Throughout Luzon Strait, baroclinic energy, energy fluxes, and turbulent dissipation were some of the strongest ever measured. Peak-to-peak baroclinic velocity and vertical displacements often exceeded 2 m s-1 and 300 m, respectively. Energy fluxes exceeding 60 kW m-1 were measured at spring tide at the western end of the southern line. On the northern line, where the western ridge generates appreciable eastward-moving signals, net energy flux between the ridges was much smaller, exhibiting a nearly standing wave pattern. Overturns tens to hundreds of meters high were observed at almost all stations. Associated dissipation was elevated in the bottom 500—1000 m but was strongest by far atop the western ridge on the northern line, where >500-m overturns resulted in dissipation exceeding 2 x 10-6 W kg-1 (implying diapycnal diffusivity K%u03C1 > 0.2 m2 s%u22121). Integrated dissipation at this location is comparable to conversion and flux divergence terms in the energy budget. The authors speculate that resonance between the two ridges may partly explain the energetic motions and heightened dissipation.

Flow and mixing in Ascension, a steep, narrow canyon

Gregg, M.C., R.A. Hall, G.S. Carter, M.H. Alford, R.-C. Lien, D.P. Winkel, and D.J. Wain, "Flow and mixing in Ascension, a steep, narrow canyon," J. Geophys. Res., 116, doi: 10.1029/2010JC006610, 2011.

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20 Jul 2011

A thin gash in the continental slope northwest of Monterey Bay, Ascension Canyon, is steep, with sides and axis both strongly supercritical to M2 internal tides. A hydrostatic model forced with eight tidal constituents shows no major sources feeding energy into the canyon, but significant energy is exchanged between barotropic and baroclinic flows along the tops of the sides, where slopes are critical. Average turbulent dissipation rates observed near spring tide during April are half as large as a two week average measured during August in Monterey Canyon. Owing to Ascension's weaker stratification, however, its average diapycnal diffusivity, 3.9 x 10^-3 m^2 s^-1, exceeded the 2.5 x 10^-3 m^2 s^-1 found in Monterey. Most of the dissipation occurred near the bottom, apparently associated with an internal bore, and just below the rim, where sustained cross-canyon flow may have been generating lee waves or rotors. The near-bottom mixing decreased sharply around Ascension's one bend, as did vertically integrated baroclinic energy fluxes. Dissipation had a minor effect on energetics, which were controlled by flux divergences and convergences and temporal changes in energy density. In Ascension, the observed dissipation rate near spring tide was 2.1 times that predicted from a simulation using eight tidal constituents averaged over a fortnightly period. The same observation was 1.5 times the average of an M2-only prediction. In Monterey, the previous observed average was 4.9 times the average of an M2-only prediction.

Observations of internal tides on the Oregon continental slope.

Martini, K.I., M.H. Alford, and E. Kunze, "Observations of internal tides on the Oregon continental slope." J. Phys. Oceanogr., 41, 1772-1794, doi: 10.1175/2011JPO4581.1, 2011.

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1 Jun 2011

A complex superposition of locally forced and shoaling remotely generated semidiurnal internal tides occurs on the Oregon continental slope. Presented here are observations from a zonal line of five profiling moorings deployed across the continental slope from 500 to 3000 m, a 24-h expendable current profiler (XCP) survey, and five 15-48-h lowered ADCP (LADCP)/CTD stations. The 40-day moored deployment spans three spring and two neap tides, during which the proportions of the locally and remotely forced internal tides vary. Baroclinic signals are strong throughout spring and neap tides, with 4-5-day-long bursts of strong cross-slope baroclinic semidiurnal velocity and vertical displacement . Energy fluxes exhibit complex spatial and temporal patterns throughout both tidal periods. During spring tides, local barotropic forcing is strongest and energy flux over the slope is predominantly offshore (westward). During neap tides, shoaling remotely generated internal tides dominate and energy flux is predominantly onshore (eastward). Shoaling internal tides do not exhibit a strong spring-neap cycle and are also observed during the first spring tide, indicating that they originate from multiple sources. The bulk of the remotely generated internal tide is hypothesized to be generated from south of the array (e.g., Mendocino Escarpment), because energy fluxes at the deep mooring 100 km offshore are always directed northward. However, fluxes on the slope suggest that the northbound internal tide is turned onshore, most likely by reflection from large-scale bathymetry. This is verified with a simple three-dimensional model of mode-1 internal tides propagating obliquely onto a near-critical slope, whose output conforms fairly well to observations, in spite of its simplicity.

The breaking and scattering of the internal tide on a continental slope.

Klymak, J.M., M.H. Alford, R. Pinkel, R.-C. Lien, Y.J. Yang, and T.Y. Tang, "The breaking and scattering of the internal tide on a continental slope." J. Phys. Oceanogr., 41, 926-945, doi:10.1175/2010JPO4500.1, 2011.

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1 May 2011

A strong internal tide is generated in the Luzon Strait that radiates westward to impact the continental shelf of the South China Sea. Mooring data in 1500-m depth on the continental slope show a fortnightly averaged incoming tidal flux of 12 kW m-1, and a mooring on a broad plateau on the slope finds a similar flux as an upper bound. Of this, 5.5 kW m-1 is in the diurnal tide and 3.5 kW m-1 is in the semidiurnal tide, with the remainder in higher-frequency motions. Turbulence dissipation may be as high as 3 kW m-1. Local generation is estimated from a linear model to be less than 1 kW m-1. The continental slope is supercritical with respect to the diurnal tide, implying that there may be significant back reflection into the basin. Comparing the low-mode energy of a horizontal standing wave at the mooring to the energy flux indicates that perhaps one-third of the incoming diurnal tidal energy is reflected. Conversely, the slope is subcritical with respect to the semidiurnal tide, and the observed reflection is very weak. A surprising observation is that, despite significant diurnal vertical-mode-2 incident energy flux, this energy did not reflect; most of the reflection was in mode 1.

The observations are consistent with a linear scattering model for supercritical topography. Large fractions of incoming energy can reflect depending on both the geometry of the shelfbreak and the phase between the modal components of the incoming flux. If the incident mode-1 and mode-2 waves are in phase at the shelf break, there is substantial transmission onto the shelf; if they are out of phase, there is almost 100% reflection. The observations of the diurnal tide at the site are consistent with the first case: weak reflection, with most of it in mode 1 and almost no reflection in mode 2. The sensitivity of the reflection on the phase between incident components significantly complicates the prediction of reflections from continental shelves.

Finally, a somewhat incidental observation is that the shape of the continental slope has large regions that are near critical to the dominant diurnal tide. This implicates the internal tide in shaping of the continental slope.

The Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems and opportunities for acoustical applications

Newton, J., M. Alford, J. Mickett, J. Payne, and F. Stahr, "The Northwest Association of Networked Ocean Observing Systems and opportunities for acoustical applications," J. Acoust. Soc. Am., 129, 2371, doi:10.1121/1.3587676, 2011.

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1 Apr 2011

The successful use of SOSUS to track broad-scale occurrence patterns in whale calls during the second half of the 20th century fostered the development of autonomous recorders that can be deployed virtually anywhere in the world ocean. Over the past decade, data from these recorders have provided dramatic insights to marine mammal ecology. Patterns of call reception have demonstrated the near year-round occurrence of some baleen whale species in Arctic and Antarctic waters, a discovery that challenges long-held assumptions about the phenology of seasonal migrations. Integration of year-long calling records with physical oceanographic measures at mooring-based ocean observatories provides a means to include large whales in ecosystem-based models. The reception of anthropogenic sounds on nearly all recorders, whether deployed in coastal or remote areas, emphasizes the need to develop regional "soundscapes" based upon integrative sampling and analytical protocols. Examples from several long-term research programs will be provided as the basis for the strong assertion that passive acoustic observation of marine mammals is a vital component of any ocean observing system. Opportunities for future collaborations and the challenges of data management and access will be discussed.

High resolution Doppler profiler measurements of turbulence from a profiling body

Rusello, P.J., E. Siegel, and M.H. Alford, "High resolution Doppler profiler measurements of turbulence from a profiling body," Current, Waves, and Turbulence Measurements (CWTM) 2011 IEEE/OES 10th, 20-23 March, Monterey, CA, 259-265, doi:10.1109/CWTM.2011.5759562, (IEEE/OES, 2011).

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20 Mar 2011

A Nortek Aquadopp High Resolution (HR) Profiler was mounted on a moored vertical crawling oceanic profiler to determine if measurements made from a moving platform could be utilized to measure turbulence. Initial results are promising for this application but have highlighted potential challenges which must be addressed in the post-processing stage, in particular removal of the profiler motion from the measured velocities. Despite the potential complexity of this process, measurements from a moving body yield correct order of magnitude estimates of turbulence intensity at a study site in the Puget Sound region.

Atmospheric and oceanic processes in the vicinity of an island strait

Pullen, J.D., A.L. Gordon, J. Sprintall, C.M. Lee, M.H. Alford, J.D. Doyle, and P.W. May, "Atmospheric and oceanic processes in the vicinity of an island strait," Oceanography, 24, 112-121, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2011.08, 2011.

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1 Mar 2011

In early February 2008, the mean flow through the Philippines' Mindoro Strait reversed. The flow was southward through the strait during late January and northward during most of February. The flow reversal coincided with the period between two Intensive Observational Period cruises (IOP-08-1 and IOP-08-2) sponsored by the Office of Naval Research as part of the Philippine Straits Dynamics Experiment (PhilEx). Employing high-resolution oceanic and atmospheric models supplemented with in situ ocean and air measurements, we detail the regional and local conditions that influenced this flow reversal. High-resolution air-sea simulations captured the flow reversal and agreed with measured currents from two moorings in the vicinity of Mindoro Strait. A short (January 24-27) easterly monsoon surge and a longer (February 9-16) northerly surge were represented in the model as well as in QuikSCAT and underway wind data taken during IOP-08-2. Mesoscale oceanic dipole eddies off Mindoro and Luzon islands were formed/enhanced and subsequently detached during these wind events. The cyclonic eddy in the dipole pair associated with the easterly surge was opportunistically sampled during the IOP-08-1 cruise, and the modeled eddy characteristics were verified using in situ shipboard data. The predominant geostrophic southward flow through the strait was interrupted by a strong and sustained wind-driven (by the northerly surge) flow reversal in early February. Enhanced upper-ocean stratification in winter 2008 due to anomalously high precipitation served to isolate the observed near-surface flow.

Internal wave climates of the Philippine Seas

Girton, J.B., B.S. Chinn, and M.H. Alford, "Internal wave climates of the Philippine Seas," Oceanography, 24, 100-111, doi:10.5670/oceanog.2011.07, 2011.

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1 Mar 2011

Internal wave measurements from moorings and profiling floats throughout the Philippine Archipelago, collected as part of the Office of Naval Research Philippine Straits Dynamics Experiment, reveal a wealth of subsurface processes, some of which have not been observed previously (in the Philippines or elsewhere). Complex bathymetry and spatially varying tide and wind forcing produce distinct internal wave environments within the network of seas and channels, ranging from quiescent interior basins to remotely forced straits. Internal tides in both the diurnal and semidiurnal bands dominate much of the velocity structure and are likely the dominant source of energy for mixing in the region. In addition, the transfer of energy from the internal tide directly to near-inertial motions through parametric subharmonic instability appears to be active and, rather than wind forcing, is the dominant source of near-inertial band energy.

Sustained, full-water-column observations of internal waves and mixing near Mendocino escarpment

Alford, M.H., "Sustained, full-water-column observations of internal waves and mixing near Mendocino escarpment," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 2643-2660, doi: 10.1175/2010JPO4502.1, 2010.

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1 Dec 2010

The relative strength and spatiotemporal structure of near-inertial waves (NIW) and internal tides (IT) are examined in the context of recent moored observations made 19 km south of Mendocino Escarpment, an abrupt ridge/step feature in the eastern Pacific. In addition to strong internal tide generation, steps and ridges give rise to the possibility of "shadowing," wherein near-inertial energy is prevented from reaching depths beneath a characteristic intersecting the ridge top. A combination of two moored profilers and a long-range acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) yielded velocity and shear measurements from 100 to 3640 m (60 m above bottom) and isopycnal depth, strain, and overturn-inferred turbulence dissipation rate from 1000 to 3640 m. Sampling intervals (20 min in the upper 1000 m and 1.5 h below that) were fast enough to minimize aliasing of higher-frequency internal-wave motions. The 67-day-long record is easily sufficient to isolate NIW and IT via bandpass filtering and to capture low-frequency variability in all quantities.

No near-inertial shadowing was observed. Instead, energetic near-inertial waves were observed at all depths, radiating both upward and downward. A strong upward internal tide beam, showing a pronounced spring–neap cycle, was also seen near the expected depth. Case studies of each of these are presented in depth and isopycnal-following coordinates. Except for immediately above the bottom and in the "beam," where IT kinetic energy shows marked peaks, kinetic energy in the two bands is within a factor of 2 of each other. However, because of the redder NIW vertical wavenumber spectrum, NIW shear exceeded IT shear at all depths by a factor of 2–4. Dissipation rate was strongly enhanced in the bottom 1000 m and in the depth range of the internal tide beam. However, except for very near the bottom and possibly in one NIW event, no clear phase relationship was observed between dissipation rate and wave shear or strain, suggesting that turbulence occurs through a cascade process rather than by direct breaking at most locations.

NANOOS contributions to understanding ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest

Newton, J.A., A.H. Devol, M.H. Alford, C.L. Sabine, R.A. Feely, S.R. Alin, and B. Hales, "NANOOS contributions to understanding ocean acidification in the Pacific Northwest," In Proceedings, MTS/IEEE OCEANS 2010, Seattle, 20-23 September, doi:10.1109/OCEANS.2010.5664014 (MTS/IEEE, 2010).

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20 Sep 2010

NANOOS is coordinating a regional effort to observe the status of ocean acidification in the coastal waters and estuaries of Washington and Oregon. There is strong partnership in this effort between federal and university scientists, as well as strong interest from shellfish growers, tribes, and other stakeholders in the region. NANOOS, as a regional association of US IOOS, can fill a key role in providing regional coordination for observing assets, access to data, and education and outreach regarding this important issue.

Three-dimensional structure and temporal evolution of submesoscale thermohaline intrusions in the North Pacific subtropical frontal zone

Shcherbina, A.Y., M.C. Gregg, M.H. Alford, M.H., and R.R. Harcourt, "Three-dimensional structure and temporal evolution of submesoscale thermohaline intrusions in the North Pacific subtropical frontal zone," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 1669-1689, doi:10.1175/2010JPO4373.1, 2010.

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1 Aug 2010

Four instances of persistent intrusive deformation of the North Pacific Subtropical Front were tagged individually by a Lagrangian float and tracked for several days. Each feature was mapped in three dimensions using repeat towed observations referenced to the float. Isohaline surface deformations in the frontal zone included sheetlike folds elongated in the alongfront direction and narrow tongues extending across the front. All deformations appeared as protrusions of relatively cold, and fresh, water across the front. No corresponding features of the opposite sign or isolated lenslike structures were observed. The sheets were O(10 m) thick, protruded about 10 km into the warm saline side of the front, and were coherent for 10–30 km along the front. Having about the same thickness and cross-frontal extent as the sheets, tongues extended less than 5 km along the front.

All of the intrusions persisted as long as they were followed, several days to one week. Their structures evolved on both inertial (23 h) and subinertial (10 days) time scales in response to differential lateral advection. The water mass surrounding the intrusions participated in gradual anticyclonic rotation as a part of a mesoscale meander of the subtropical front. The intrusions may be interpreted as a manifestation of three-dimensional submesoscale turbulence of the frontal zone, driven by the mesoscale. Absence of large features of the opposite sign may be indicative of the asymmetry of the underlying dynamics.

Long-range propagation of the semidiurnal internal tide from the Hawaiian Ridge

Zhao, Z., M.H. Alford, J.A. MacKinnon, and R. Pinkel, "Long-range propagation of the semidiurnal internal tide from the Hawaiian Ridge," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 713-736, 2010.

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1 Apr 2010

The northeastward progression of the semidiurnal internal tide from French Frigate Shoals (FFS), Hawaii, is studied with an array of six simultaneous profiling moorings spanning 25.5–37.1 deg N (~1400 km) and 13-yr-long Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon (T/P) altimeter data processed by a new technique. The moorings have excellent temporal and vertical resolutions, while the altimeter offers broad spatial coverage of the surface manifestation of the internal tide's coherent portion. Together these two approaches provide a unique view of the internal tide's long-range propagation in a complex ocean environment. The moored observations reveal a rich, time-variable, and multimodal internal tide field, with higher-mode motions contributing significantly to velocity, displacement, and energy. In spite of these contributions, the coherent mode-1 internal tide dominates the northeastward energy flux, and is detectable in both moored and altimetric data over the entire array. Phase and group propagation measured independently from moorings and altimetry agree well with theoretical values. Sea surface height anomalies (SSHAs) measured from moorings and altimetry agree well in amplitude and phase until the northern end of the array, where phase differences arise presumably from refraction by mesoscale flows. Observed variations in SSHA, energy flux, and kinetic-to-potential energy ratio indicate an interference pattern resulting from superposed northeastward radiation from Hawaii and southeastward from the Aleutian Ridge. A simple model of two plane waves explains most of these features.

Using global arrays to investigate internal-waves and mixing

MacKinnon, J., et al., including M. Alford, J. Girton, M. Gregg, E. Kunze, and T. Sanford, "Using global arrays to investigate internal-waves and mixing," In Proceedings, OceanObs'09: Sustained Ocean Observations and Information for Society (Vol. 2), Venice, Italy, 21-25 September 2009, J. Hall, et al., eds. (ESA Publication WPP-306, doi:10.5270/OceanObs09.cwp.58, 2010).

15 Feb 2010

Resonant forcing of mixed layer inertial motions by atmospheric easterly waves in the northeast tropical Pacific

Mickett, J.B., Y.L. Serra, M.F. Cronin, and M.H. Alford, "Resonant forcing of mixed layer inertial motions by atmospheric easterly waves in the northeast tropical Pacific," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 401-416, 2010.

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1 Feb 2010

Westward-propagating atmospheric easterly waves contribute to much of the variability of the low-level wind fields within the northeast tropical Pacific. With the dominant period of these waves (3–5 days) close to the local inertial period (2.4 days at 12 deg N to 5.7 days at 5 deg N), there is the expectation that the associated winds may resonantly force mixed layer inertial motions in this region. The authors test this hypothesis using a simple slab model and roughly 4 1/2 yr of wind data from four NOAA Tropical Atmosphere Ocean/Eastern Pacific Investigation of Climate Processes (TAO/EPIC) buoys along 95 deg W at 12, 10, 8, and 5 deg N. The degree of resonance is determined by comparing model simulations using observed wind stress with simulations forced with reversed-rotation wind stress.

Results strongly indicate that Pacific easterly waves (PEWs) resonantly force inertial motions in the region. This resonance shows both significant seasonality and latitudinal dependence that appears to be related to the meridional position and intensity of the PEWs. North of the zonal axis of the mean track of the PEWs, the low-level winds associated with the waves rotate predominantly clockwise with time and resonantly force mixed layer inertial motions. South of this axis, the winds rotate counterclockwise, resulting in dissonant (antiresonant) forcing. As this axis migrates annually from about 4 deg N during the boreal winter/spring to a maximum northerly position of about 8–10 deg N in the late boreal summer/early fall, the region of strongest resonance follows, consistently remaining to its north. Model output suggests that resonant forcing results in roughly 10–25% greater net annual flux of kinetic energy from the wind to mixed layer inertial motions than in neutral or nonresonant conditions. This finding has strong implications for mixed layer properties, air-sea coupling, and the generation of near-inertial internal waves.

Speed and evolution of nonlinear internal waves transiting the South China Sea

Alford, M.H., R.-C. Lien, H. Simmons, J. Klymak, S. Ramp, Y.J. Yang, D. Tang, and M.-H. Chang, "Speed and evolution of nonlinear internal waves transiting the South China Sea," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 40, 1338-1355, 2010.

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6 Jan 2010

In the South China Sea (SCS), 14 nonlinear internal waves are detected as they transit a synchronous array of 10 moorings spanning the waves' generation site at Luzon Strait, through the deep basin, and onto the upper continental slope 560 km to the west. Their arrival time, speed, width, energy, amplitude, and number of trailing waves are monitored. Waves occur twice daily in a particular pattern where larger, narrower "A" waves alternate with wider, smaller "B" waves. Waves begin as broad internal tides close to Luzon Strait's two ridges, steepening to O(3–10 km) wide in the deep basin and O(200–300 m) on the upper slope.

Nearly all waves eventually develop wave trains, with larger/steeper waves developing them earlier and in greater numbers. The B waves in the deep basin begin at a mean speed of ~5% greater than the linear mode-1 phase speed for semidiurnal internal waves (computed using climatological and in situ stratification). The A waves travel ~5–10% faster than B waves until they reach the continental slope, presumably because of their greater amplitude. On the upper continental slope, all waves speed up relative to linear values, but B waves now travel 8–12% faster than A waves, in spite of being smaller.

Solutions of the Taylor–Goldstein equation with observed currents demonstrate that the B waves' faster speed is a result of modulation of the background currents by an energetic diurnal internal tide on the upper slope. Attempts to ascertain the phase of the barotropic tide at which the waves were generated yielded inconsistent results, possibly partly because of contamination at the easternmost mooring by eastward signals generated at Luzon Strait's western ridge. These results present a coherent picture of the transbasin evolution of the waves but underscore the need to better understand their generation, the nature of their nonlinearity, and propagation through a time-variable background flow, which includes the internal tides.

Characterizing thermohaline intrusions in the North Pacific subtropical frontal zone

Shcherbina, A.Y., M.C. Gregg, M.H. Alford, and R.R. Harcourt, "Characterizing thermohaline intrusions in the North Pacific subtropical frontal zone," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 39, 2735-2756, 2009.

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1 Nov 2009

A monthlong field survey in July 2007, focused on the North Pacific subtropical frontal zone (STFZ) near 30°N, 158°W, combined towed depth-cycling conductivity-temperature-depth (CTD) profiling with shipboard current observations. Measurements were used to investigate the distribution and structure of thermohaline intrusions. The study revealed that local extrema of vertical salinity profiles, often used as intrusion indicators, were only a subset of a wider class of distortions in thermohaline fields due to interleaving processes. A new method to investigate interleaving based on diapycnal spiciness curvature was used to describe an expanded class of laterally coherent intrusions. STFZ intrusions were characterized by their overall statistics and by a number of case studies. Thermohaline interleaving was particularly intense within 5 km of two partially compensated fronts, where intrusions with both positive and negative salinity anomalies were widespread. The vertical and cross-frontal scales of the intrusions were on the order of 10 m and 5 km, respectively. Though highly variable, the slopes of these features were typically intermediate between those of isopycnals and isohalines. Although the influence of double-diffusive processes sometime during the evolution of intrusions could not be excluded, the broad spectrum of the observed features suggests that any role of double diffusion was secondary.

New altimetric estimates of mode-1 M2 internal tides in the central North Pacific Ocean

Zhao, Z., and M.H. Alford, "New altimetric estimates of mode-1 M2 internal tides in the central North Pacific Ocean," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 39, 1669-1684, doi:10.1175/2009JPO3922.1, 2009.

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1 Jul 2009

New estimates of mode-1 M2 internal tide energy flux are computed from an extended Ocean Topography Experiment (TOPEX)/Poseidon (T/P) altimeter dataset that includes both the original and tandem tracks, improving spatial resolution over previous estimates from O(500 km) to O(250 km). Additionally, a new technique is developed that allows separate resolution of northward and southward components. Half-wavelength features previously seen in unseparated estimates are shown to be due to the superposition of northward and southward wave trains.

The new technique and higher spatial resolution afford a new view of mode-1 M2 internal tides in the central North Pacific Ocean. As with all altimetric estimates, only the coherent or phase-locked signals are detectable owing to the long repeat period of the tracks. Emanating from specific generation sites consistent with predictions from numerical models, internal tidal beams 1) are as narrow as 200 km and 2) propagate a longer distance than previously observed. Two northward internal tidal beams radiating from the Hawaiian Ridge, previously obscured by coarse resolution and the southward Aleutian beam, are now seen to propagate more than 3500 km across the North Pacific Ocean to reach the Alaskan shelf. The internal tidal beams are much better resolved than in previous studies, resulting in better agreement with moored flux estimates.

Restratification of the surface mixed layer with submesoscale lateral density gradients: Diagnosing the importance of horizontal dimensions

Hosegood, P.J., M.C. Gregg, and M.H. Alford, "Restratification of the surface mixed layer with submesoscale lateral density gradients: Diagnosing the importance of horizontal dimensions," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 38, 2438-2460, 2008.

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1 Nov 2008

A depth-cycling towed conductivity–temperature–depth (CTD) and vessel-mounted acoustic Doppler current profiler (ADCP) were used to obtain four-dimensional measurements of the restratification of the surface mixed layer (SML) at a submesoscale lateral density gradient near the subtropical front. With the objective of studying the role of horizontal processes in restratification, the thermohaline and velocity fields were monitored for 33 h by 16 small-scale (≤15 km2) surveys centered on a drogued float. Daytime warming by insolation caused a unidirectional displacement of the initially vertical isopycnals toward increasing density. Across the entire SML (50-m vertical scale), solar insolation accounted for 60% of observed restratification, but over 10-m scales, the percentage decreased with depth from 80% at 25–35 m to ≤25% at 55–65 m. Below 35 m, stratification was enhanced by the vertically sheared horizontal advection of the lateral density gradient due to a near-inertial wave of 100-m vertical wavelength that rotated anticyclonically at the inertial frequency. The phase and similar period (25.4 h) of the local inertial period to the diurnal cycle ensured constructive interference with isopycnal displacements due to insolation. Restratification by sheared advection matched that predicted due to vertically sheared inertial oscillations generated during the geostrophic adjustment of a density front, but direct wind forcing may also have generated the wave that was subsequently modified by interaction with mesoscale vorticity associated with a nearby large-scale front. By further including the effects of lateral uncompensated thermohaline inhomogeneity, the authors can account for 100% ± 20% of the observed N2 during daytime restratification. No detectable restratification due to the slumping of horizontal density gradients under gravity alone was found.

Observations of parametric subharmonic instability of the diurnal internal tide in the South China Sea

Alford, M.H., "Observations of parametric subharmonic instability of the diurnal internal tide in the South China Sea," Geophys. Res. Lett., 35, 10.1029/2008GL034720, 2008.

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5 Aug 2008

Shipboard observations are presented that suggest the occurrence of parametric subharmonic instability (PSI) of diurnal K1 and O1 internal tides at "critical" latitudes of 14.52°N and 13.44°N, respectively. In a transect spanning 12.5–18°N, depth-mean shear squared shows sharp peaks at 14.52°N (elevated relative to that at 15°N by a factor of ten) and at 13.44°N (by a factor of 7). Wind speed measured from the ship and Quikscat scatterometer during and before the transect was <10 m s-1 at these latitudes. Eight-hour time series (about 1/6 of an inertial period) of shear and isopycnal depth at 14.52°N are sufficient to associate the elevated shear with alternating, clockwise-rotating layers analogous to those observed at the M2 critical latitude of 28.8°N.

Internal waves across the Pacific

Alford, M.H., J.A. MacKinnon, Z. Zhao, R. Pinkel, J. Klymak, and T. Peacock, "Internal waves across the Pacific," Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, doi:10.1029/2007GL031566, 2007.

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18 Dec 2007

The long-range propagation of the semidiurnal internal tide northward from the Hawaiian ridge and its susceptibility to parametric subharmonic instability (PSI) at the "critical latitude," λc = 28.8°N, were examined in spring 2006 with intensive shipboard and moored observations spanning 25–37°N along a tidal beam. Velocity and shear at λc were dominated by intense vertically-standing, inertially-rotating bands of several hundred meters vertical wavelength. These occurred in bursts following spring tide, contrasting sharply with the downward-propagating, wind-generated features seen at other latitudes. These marginally-stable layers (which have inverse 16-meter Richardson number Ri16-1 = 0.7) are interpreted as the inertial waves resulting from PSI of the internal tide. Elevated near-inertial energy and parameterized diapycnal diffusivity, and reduced asymmetry in upgoing/downgoing energy, were also observed at and equatorward of λc . Yet, simultaneous moored measurements of semidiurnal energy flux and 1-km-deep velocity sections measured from the ship indicate that the internal tide propagates at least to 37°N, with no detectable energy loss or phase discontinuity at λc . Our observations indicate that PSI occurs in the ocean with sufficient intensity to substantially alter the inertial shear field at and equatorward of λc, but that it does not appreciably disrupt the propagation of the tide at our location.

Diagnosing a partly standing internal wave in Mamala Bay, Oahu

Martini, K.I., M.H. Alford, J.D. Nash, E. Kunze, and M.A. Merrifield, "Diagnosing a partly standing internal wave in Mamala Bay, Oahu," Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, doi:10.1029/2007GL029749, 2007.

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7 Sep 2007

An internal partly standing wave in Mamala Bay, Hawaii is studied using new observations and the Princeton Ocean Model (POM). Previous work suggested a convergence in the bay of east- and westbound waves emanating from Kaena Ridge and Makapuu Point, respectively. New energy flux measurements with shipboard ADCP/CTD confirm that Makapuu Point is the eastern source. After validating the POM results against observations, the model output is modally decomposed and compared with the expected theoretical patterns of kinetic and available potential energy, energy flux, and group velocity for a partly standing wave. Agreement is seen for the first baroclinic mode, which also contains most of the energy. The results confirm previous suggestions of standing wave dynamics in Mamala Bay.

Seasonal and spatial variability of near-inertial kinetic energy from historical moored velocity records

Alford, M.H., and M. Whitmont, "Seasonal and spatial variability of near-inertial kinetic energy from historical moored velocity records," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 37, 2022-2037, doi:10.1175/JPO3106.1, 2007.

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1 Aug 2007

Temporal and spatial patterns of near-inertial kinetic energy (KEmoor) are investigated in a database of 2480 globally distributed, moored current-meter records (deployed on 690 separate moorings) and compared with the distribution of wind-forced mixed-layer energy flux FML. By computing KEmoor using short (30 day) multitaper spectral windows, the seasonal cycle is resolved. Clear winter enhancement by a factor of 4–5 is seen in the Northern Hemisphere for latitudes 25–45° at all depths <4500 m, in close agreement with the magnitude, phase, and latitudinal dependence of the seasonal cycle of FML. In the Southern Hemisphere, data coverage is poorer, but a weaker seasonal cycle (a factor of 2) in both KEmoor and FML is still resolvable between 35° and 50°. When Wentzel–Kramers–Brillouin (WKB) scaled using climatological buoyancy-frequency profiles, summer KEmoor is approximately constant in depth while showing a clear decrease by a factor of 4–5 from 500 to 3500 m in winter. Spatial coverage is sufficient in the Northern Hemisphere to resolve broad KEmoor maxima in the western portion of each ocean basin in winter, generally collocated with FML maxima associated with storm forcing. The ratio of depth-integrated KEmoor to FML gives a replenishment time scale, which is about 10 days in midlatitudes, consistent with 1) previous estimates of the dissipation time scale of the internal wave continuum and 2) the presence of a seasonal cycle. Its increase to ~70–80 days at lower latitudes is a possible signature of equatorward propagation of near-inertial waves. The seasonal modulation of the magnitude of KEmoor, its similarity to that in FML, and the depth decay and western intensification in winter but not in summer are consistent with a primarily wind-forced near-inertial field for latitudes poleward of ~25°.

Global patterns of low-mode internal-wave propagation. Part I: Energy and energy flux

Alford, M.H., and Z.X. Zhao, "Global patterns of low-mode internal-wave propagation. Part I: Energy and energy flux," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 37, 1829-1848, doi:10.1175/JPO3085.1, 2007.

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1 Jul 2007

Extending an earlier attempt to understand long-range propagation of the global internal-wave field, the energy E and horizontal energy flux F are computed for the two gravest baroclinic modes at 80 historical moorings around the globe. With bandpass filtering, the calculation is performed for the semidiurnal band (emphasizing M2 internal tides, generated by flow over sloping topography) and for the near-inertial band (emphasizing wind-generated waves near the Coriolis frequency). The time dependence of semidiurnal E and F is first examined at six locations north of the Hawaiian Ridge; E and F typically rise and fall together and can vary by over an order of magnitude at each site. This variability typically has a strong spring–neap component, in addition to longer time scales. The observed spring tides at sites northwest of the Hawaiian Ridge are coherent with barotropic forcing at the ridge, but lagged by times consistent with travel at the theoretical mode-1 group speed from the ridge. Phase computed from 14-day windows varies by approximately ±45° on monthly time scales, implying refraction by mesoscale currents and stratification. This refraction also causes the bulk of internal-tide energy flux to be undetectable by altimetry and other long-term harmonic-analysis techniques. As found previously, the mean flux in both frequency bands is O(1 kW m-1), sufficient to radiate a substantial fraction of energy far from each source. Tidal flux is generally away from regions of strong topography. Near-inertial flux is overwhelmingly equatorward, as required for waves generated at the inertial frequency on a β plane, and is winter-enhanced, consistent with storm generation. In a companion paper, the group velocity is examined for both frequency bands.

Global patterns of low-mode internal-wave propagation. Part II: Group velocity

Alford, M.H., and Z.X. Zhao, "Global patterns of low-mode internal-wave propagation. Part II: Group velocity," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 37, 1849-1858, doi:10.1175/JPO3086.1, 2007.

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1 Jul 2007

Using a set of 80 globally distributed time series of near-inertial and semidiurnal energy E and energy flux F computed from historical moorings, the group velocity is estimated. For a single free wave, observed group speed should equal that expected from linear wave theory. For comparison, the latitude dependence of perceived group speed for perfectly standing waves is also derived. The latitudinal dependence of observed semidiurnal group speed closely follows that expected for free waves at all latitudes, implying that 1) low-mode internal tides obey linear theory and 2) standing internal-tidal waves are rare in the deep ocean for latitudes equatorward of about 35°. At higher latitudes, standing waves cannot be easily distinguished from free waves using this method because their expected group speeds are similar. Near-inertial waves exhibit scattered group speed values consistent with the passage of events generated at various latitudes, with implied frequencies ω ≈ 1.05 – 1.25 x f, as typically observed in frequency spectra.

Hotspots of deep ocean mixing on the Oregon continental slope

Nash, J.D., M.H. Alford, E. Kunze, K. Martini, and S. Kelly, "Hotspots of deep ocean mixing on the Oregon continental slope," Geophys. Res. Lett., 34, doi:10.1029/2006GL028170, 2007.

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9 Jan 2007

Two deep ocean hotspots of turbulent mixing were found over the Oregon continental slope. Thorpe-scale analyses indicate time-averaged turbulent energy dissipation rates of ε > 10-7 W/kg and eddy diffusivities of Kρ ~10-2 m2/s at both hotspots. However, the structure of turbulence and its generation mechanism at each site appear to be different. At the 2200-m isobath, sustained >100-m high turbulent overturns occur in stratified fluid several hundred meters above the bottom. Turbulence shows a clear 12.4-h periodicity proposed to be driven by flow over a nearby 100-m tall ridge. At the 1300-m isobath, tidally-modulated turbulence of similar intensity is confined within a stratified bottom boundary layer. Along-slope topographic roughness at scales not resolved in global bathymetric data sets appears to be responsible for the bulk of the turbulence observed. Such topography is common to most continental slopes, providing a mechanism for turbulence generation in regions where barotropic tidal currents are nominally along-isobath.

Sub-mesoscale lateral density structure in the oceanic surface mixed layer

Hosegood, P., M.C. Gregg, and M.H. Alford, "Sub-mesoscale lateral density structure in the oceanic surface mixed layer," Geophys. Res. Lett., 33, 10.1029/2006GL026797, 2006.

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23 Nov 2006

We investigate the horizontal scales of density variability in the surface mixed layer (SML) in the North Pacific Subtropical Front (STF) during a period of highly variable atmospheric forcing. Wavelet analysis shows that horizontal density variability is not restricted to scales, L, ≥10 km as previously suggested but extends to L = 2 km. The limiting L varies strongly with location and corresponds to a local internal Rossby radius that accounts for transient stratification above the seasonal thermocline. Density compensation in the SML, achieved when temperature and salinity effects cancel in their effect on density, occurs at 30°N at the climatological front associated with the northern boundary of the STF where large thermohaline gradients are observed. At 28°N, however, temperature gradients within the SML are not compensated by salinity, and horizontal density gradients result in 2 ≤ L ≤ 10 km. Our observations suggest dynamic processes restratify the SML at scales rarely resolved by numerical models of the SML.

Source and propagation of internal solitary waves in the northeastern South China Sea

Zhao, Z.X., and M.H. Alford, "Source and propagation of internal solitary waves in the northeastern South China Sea," J. Geophys. Res., 111, 10.1029/2006JC003644, 2006.

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22 Nov 2006

Large-amplitude internal solitary waves (ISWs) observed near Dongsha Island in the South China Sea originate in tide-topography interactions at Luzon Strait. Their arrival times at two moorings (S7 at 117°17'E, 21°37'N, and Y at 117°13.2'E, 21°2.8'N) are investigated, with respect to model-predicted barotropic tidal currents over Lan-Yu ridge at Luzon Strait. Each ISW packet can be associated with a westward tidal current peak. The time lags between the ISWs and the barotropic tidal currents are 57.6 ± 0.9 hours at S7 and 55.1 ± 1.0 hours at Y, consistent with the mode-one internal waves propagating nondispersively through the region's bathymetry and climatological stratification. Larger ISWs usually arrive earlier than smaller ones, consistent with the theoretical relation between nonlinear wave speed and wave amplitude. The observation that the ISWs are associated with westward tidal currents, with/without the presence of earlier eastward tidal currents, suggests that they are generated by nonlinear steepening of internal tides, rather than by the lee-wave mechanism. An idealized nonlinearization distance, over which the ISWs are generated in internal tide troughs, is estimated to be 260 ± 40 km from Luzon Strait.

Structure, propagation, and mixing of energetic baroclinic tides in Mamala Bay, Oahu, Hawaii

Alford, M.H., M.C. Gregg, and M.A. Merrifield, "Structure, propagation, and mixing of energetic baroclinic tides in Mamala Bay, Oahu, Hawaii," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 36, 997-1018, doi:10.1175/JPO2877.1, 2006.

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1 Jun 2006

Large semidiurnal vertical displacements (≈100 m) and strong baroclinic currents (≈0.5 m s-1; several times as large as barotropic currents) dominate motions in Mamala Bay, outside the mouth of Pearl Harbor, Hawaii. During September 2002, the authors sought to characterize them with a 2-month McLane moored profiler deployment and a 4-day intensive survey with a towed CTD/ADCP and the Research Vessel (R/V) Revelle hydrographic sonar. Spatial maps and time series of turbulent dissipation rate ε, diapycnal diffusivity Kρ, isopycnal displacement η, velocity u, energy E, and energy flux F are presented. Dissipation rate peaks in the lower 150 m during rising isopycnals and high strain and shows a factor-of-50 spring-neap modulation. The largest Kρ values, in the western bay near a submarine ridge, exceed 10-3 m2 s-1. The M2 phases of η and u increase toward the west, implying a westward phase velocity cp ≈ 1 m s-1 and horizontal wavelength ≈60 km, consistent with theoretical mode-1 values. These phases vary strongly (≈±45°) in time relative to astronomical forcing, implying remotely generated signals. Energy and energy flux peak 1–3 days after spring tide, supporting this interpretation. The group velocity, computed as the ratio F/E, is near ≈1 m s-1, also in agreement with theoretical mode-1 values. Spatial maps of energy flux agree well with results from the Princeton Ocean Model, indicating converging fluxes in the western bay from waves generated to the east and west. The observations indicate a time-varying interference pattern between these waves that is modulated by background stratification between their sources and Mamala Bay.

An ocean refractometer: Resolving millimeter-scale turbulence density fluctuation via the refractive index

Alford, M.H., D.W. Gerdt, and C.M. Adkins, "An ocean refractometer: Resolving millimeter-scale turbulence density fluctuation via the refractive index," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 23, 121-137, doi:10.1175/JTECH1830.1, 2006.

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1 Jan 2006

A fiberoptic sensor has been constructed to measure oceanic density fluctuations via their refractive index signature. The resolution and precision of the device are far better than other methods and are sufficient to resolve the entire turbulent spectrum. Spectra show the salinity Batchelor rolloff at levels undetectable via conductivity measurements. However, the low-wavenumber portion of the spectrum occupied by the turbulent inertial subrange (≈1 m–1 cm scales) is marred by noise resulting from fiber motion in response to turbulent velocity fluctuations. The technique is described, and the first ocean measurements are reported.

Estimating internal wave energy fluxes in the ocean

Nash, J.D., M.H. Alford, and E. Kunze, "Estimating internal wave energy fluxes in the ocean," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 22, 1551-1570, doi: 10.1175/JTECH1784.1, 2005

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1 Oct 2005

Energy flux is a fundamental quantity for understanding internal wave generation, propagation, and dissipation. In this paper, the estimation of internal wave energy fluxes <u'p'> from ocean observations that may be sparse in either time or depth are considered. Sampling must be sufficient in depth to allow for the estimation of the internal wave-induced pressure anomaly p' using the hydrostatic balance, and sufficient in time to allow for phase averaging. Data limitations that are considered include profile time series with coarse temporal or vertical sampling, profiles missing near-surface or near-bottom information, moorings with sparse vertical sampling, and horizontal surveys with no coherent resampling in time. Methodologies, interpretation, and errors are described. For the specific case of the semidiurnal energy flux radiating from the Hawaiian ridge, errors of 10% are typical for estimates from six full-depth profiles spanning 15 h.

Mixing, 3D mapping, and Lagrangian evolution of a thermohaline intrusion

Alford, M.H., M.C. Gregg, and E.A. D'Asaro, "Mixing, 3D mapping, and Lagrangian evolution of a thermohaline intrusion," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 35, 1689-1711, 2005

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30 Sep 2005

Observations of the three-dimensional structure and evolution of a thermohaline intrusion in a wide, deep fjord are presented. In an intensive two-ship study centered on an acoustically tracked neutrally buoyant float, a cold, fresh, low-oxygen tongue of water moving southward at about 0.03 m s-1 out of Possession Sound, Washington, was observed. The feature lay across isopycnal surfaces in a 50–80-m depth range. The large-scale structures of temperature, salinity, velocity, dissolved oxygen, and chlorophyll were mapped with a towed, depth-cycling instrument from one ship while the other ship measured turbulence close to the float with loosely tethered microstructure profilers. Observations from both ships were expressed in a float-relative (Lagrangian) reference frame, minimizing advection effects. A float deployed at the tongue's leading edge warmed 0.2°C in 24 h, which the authors argue resulted from mixing. Diapycnal heat fluxes inferred from microstructure were 1–2 orders of magnitude too small to account for the observed warming. Instead, lateral stirring along isopycnals appears responsible, implying isopycnal diffusivities O(1 m2 s-1). These are consistent with estimates, using measured temperature microstructure, from an extension of the Osborn–Cox model that allows for lateral gradients. Horizontal structures with scales O(100 m) are seen in time series and spatial maps, supporting this interpretation.

Structure and variability of semidiurnal internal tides in Mamala Bay, Hawaii

Eich, M.L., M.A. Merrifield, and M.H. Alford, "Structure and variability of semidiurnal internal tides in Mamala Bay, Hawaii," J. Geophys. Res., 109, C05010, 10.1029/2003JC00204, 2004.

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7 May 2004

Moored current meter and temperature observations and results from a three-dimensional primitive equation model are used to examine the energetic semidiurnal internal tides present in Mamala Bay on the south coast of Oahu, Hawaii. The steady, harmonic component of the internal tide is characterized by large vertical displacements in the central region of the bay (35 m amplitude for the M2 constituent), and enhanced alongshelf baroclinic currents at the headlands on either end of the bay (0.27 m s-1). Seasonal changes in amplitude and phase are observed. The model captures the qualitative spatial structure of the observations. Baroclinic energy flux estimates, from the mooring observations and the numerical simulations, suggest that internal tide energy propagates into the bay and does not originate within the bay. The model indicates that internal wave generation occurs over the flanks (500–1000 m depth) of the ridge, predominantly on the east side, with perhaps some additional contribution on the west from an energetic internal tide generated north of Oahu. Wave superposition is believed to account for the alongshelf spatial structure of currents and displacements. Incoherent modulations of the internal tide occur that are not related to local changes in stratification, at least on superannual timescales. Factors contributing to this signal may include stratification variations at the deep generation sites, mesoscale activity, and/or the shoaling of a random internal wave field into the bay from the open ocean.

Redistribution of energy available for ocean mixing by long-range propagation of internal waves

Alford, M.H., "Redistribution of energy available for ocean mixing by long-range propagation of internal waves," Nature, 423, 159-162, doi:10.1038/nature01628, 2003

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8 May 2003

Ocean mixing, which affects pollutant dispersal, marine productivity and global climate, largely results from the breaking of internal gravity waves—disturbances propagating along the ocean's internal stratification. A global map of internal-wave dissipation would be useful in improving climate models, but would require knowledge of the sources of internal gravity waves and their propagation. Towards this goal, I present here computations of horizontal internal-wave propagation from 60 historical moorings and relate them to the source terms of internal waves as computed previously. Analysis of the two most energetic frequency ranges—near-inertial frequencies and semidiurnal tidal frequencies—reveals that the fluxes in both frequency bands are of the order of 1 kW m-1 (that is, 15–50% of the energy input) and are directed away from their respective source regions. However, the energy flux due to near-inertial waves is stronger in winter, whereas the tidal fluxes are uniform throughout the year. Both varieties of internal waves can thus significantly affect the space-time distribution of energy available for global mixing.

Improved global maps and 54-year history of wind-work on the ocean intertial motions

Alford, M.H., "Improved global maps and 54-year history of wind-work on the ocean intertial motions," Geophys. Res. Lett., 30, 10.1029/2003GL018543, 2003

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18 Apr 2003

The global distribution and 54-year time dependence of the energy-flux from the wind to near-inertial motions is computed by driving a slab mixed-layer model with NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis winds, improving upon previous estimates [Alford, 2001; Watanabe and Hibiya, 2002]. The slab model is solved spectrally with frequency-dependent damping. The resulting solutions are more physically sensible than the previous, and more skillful at high latitudes, where the inertial frequency approaches the 4x-daily sampling of the Reanalysis winds. This enables Alford's calculation, whose domain was limited to ±50°, to be extended to the poles. The high-latitude reliability is demonstrated by direct comparison with a high-resolution regional model (REMO) in the NE Atlantic. The total power input, 0.47 TW, has increased by 25% since 1948, paralleling observed increases in extratropical cyclone frequency and intensity. If believable, the trend may have important consequences for modulation of the meridional overturning circulation.

Internal swell: Distribution and redistribution of internal-wave energy

Alford, M.H., "Internal swell: Distribution and redistribution of internal-wave energy," Proceedings, 'Aha Huliko'a Hawaiian Winter Workshop, Dynamics of Oceanic Internal Gravity Waves II, 13-18 January, University of Hawaii at Manoa, edited by P. Muller and D. Henderson (Hawaii Institute of Geophysics, 2003).

18 Jan 2003

Fine-structure contamination: Observations and a model of a simple two-wave case

Alford, M.H., "Fine-structure contamination: Observations and a model of a simple two-wave case," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 31, 2645-2649, 2001.

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1 Sep 2001

Internal waves advect vertical structure past Eulerian (fixed depth) sensors, leading to "fine-structure contamination," wherein the intrinsic frequency spectrum is Doppler shifted by the advective motions. Shear, velocity, and isopycnal displacement records collected at low latitude (6.5°S, Coriolis frequency f = 1/4.4 cpd) with an ADCP and a loosely tethered vehicle are used to demonstrate this mechanism in a simple case. In contrast to the usual midlatitude situation where the intrinsic and advective frequencies are broadband and overlapping, the low Coriolis frequency at low latitude allows clear identification of heaving of near-inertial shear layers by the diurnal internal tide. Specifically, Eulerian shear and velocity frequency spectra show peaks at f ± K1, where K1 = 1 cpd is the diurnal tidal frequency. A simple two-wave model illustrates the mechanism and correctly predicts the magnitude of the shifted peaks. The shifted peaks are absent in spectra of quantities computed in an isopycnal-following frame since the advection effect is removed.

Near-inertial mixing: Modulation of shear, strain and microstructure at low latitude

Alford, M.H., and M.C. Gregg, "Near-inertial mixing: Modulation of shear, strain and microstructure at low latitude," J. Geophys. Res., 106, 16,947-16,968, doi:10.1029/2000JC000370, 2001.

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15 Aug 2001

We report direct, quantitative measurements of mixing associated with three cycles of a single, energetic, downward-propagating near-inertial wave in the Banda Sea at 6.5°S, 128°E during October 1998. The wave dominates the shear, containing 70% of the total variance. Simultaneous depth/time series of shear, strain, Froude number (Fr), and microstructure allow direct computation of their coherence and phase from 50–120 m, for 14 days. In this depth range, 72% of diapycnal diffusivity (68% of dissipation) occurs in three distinct pulses, spaced at the inertial period of 4.4 days. These are collocated with maxima of transverse shear, strain and Fr. Inertial-band log diapycnal diffusivity, log10 Kp , is coherent at the 95% confidence level with both components of shear and Froude number. In this data set, strain is more important than shear in modulating Fr. Owing to the low latitude, the inertial frequency (fo=1/4.4 cycles per day) is much smaller than the diurnal and tidal frequencies. Consequently, near-inertial motions may be studied separately from tides and other motions via time-domain filtering. Semiempirical WKB plane-wave solutions with observed frequency ωo = 1.02fo and vertical scale 100 m explain 66% and 42% of inertial-band shear and strain variance, respectively. On the basis of the observed phase relationship between shear and strain, the wave is propagating equatorward, toward 295° true. Ratios of shear to strain and of parallel to transverse shear suggest that the wave's intrinsic frequency ωI≈1.18feff. This indicates that background vorticity ζ has lowered the effective Coriolis frequency, feff = fo ζ/2, relative to its planetary value, fo [Kunze, 1985]. Ray tracing suggests that the wave was generated near 6.9°S, 130.6°E, ~20 days prior to the cruise, coincident with the end of high winds associated with the SE monsoon. A slab mixed layer model [Pollard and Millard, 1970], forced with National Center for Environmental Prediction (NCEP) model surface winds, confirms that fluxes from the wind to the ocean at this time were sufficient to generate the wave. A very simple model shows that mixing by monsoon-generated inertial waves may add an important and strongly time-dependent aspect to some regions' energy budgets.

Internal swell generation: The spatial distribution of energy flux from the wind to mixed layer near-inertial motions

Alford, M.H., "Internal swell generation: The spatial distribution of energy flux from the wind to mixed layer near-inertial motions," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 31, 2359-2368, 2001.

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1 Aug 2001

The energy flux from the wind to inertial mixed layer motions is computed for all oceans from 50°S to 50°N for the years 1996–99. The wind stress, τ, is computed from 6-h, 2.5°-resolution NCEP–NCAR global reanalysis surface winds. The inertial mixed layer response, uI, and the energy flux, Π = τ x uI, are computed using a slab model. The validity of the reanalysis winds and the slab model is demonstrated by direct comparison with wind and ADCP velocity records from NDBC buoys. (At latitudes > 50°, the inertial response is too fast to be resolved by the reanalysis wind 6-h output interval.)

Midlatitude storms produce the greatest fluxes, resulting in broad maxima near 40° latitude during each hemisphere's winter, concentrated in the western portion of each basin. Northern Hemisphere fluxes exceed those in the Southern Hemisphere by about 50%. The global mean energy flux from 1996 to 1999 and 50°S to 50°N is (0.98 ± 0.08) x 10-3 W m-2, for a total power of 0.29 TW (1 TW = 1012 W). This total is the same order of magnitude as recent estimates of the global power input to baroclinic M2 tidal motions, suggesting that wind-generated near-inertial waves may play an important role in the global energy balance.

Observations of overturning in the thermocline: The context of ocean mixing

Alford, M., and R. Pinkel, "Observations of overturning in the thermocline: The context of ocean mixing," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 30, 805-832, 2000.

1 May 2000

Patterns of turbulent and double diffusive phenomena: Observations from a rapid-profiling microconductivity probe

Alford, M., and R. Pinkel, "Patterns of turbulent and double diffusive phenomena: Observations from a rapid-profiling microconductivity probe," J. Phys. Oceanogr., 30, 833-854, 2000.

1 May 2000

In The News

Voyage traces stirred-up Arctic heat

BBC, Jonathan Webb

Using a gadget developed by UW's Applied Physics Laboratory, oceanographers have gathered evidence that turbulence in the Arctic Ocean is stirring up heat from the depths.

28 Sep 2015

Underwater waves are the Earth's 'lumbering giants'

USA Today, Traci Watson

A 70-foot wave is a terrifying wall of water that only the best surfers can ride. But it's a midget compared with the colossal and mysterious waves that lurk under the ocean's surface.

These underwater waves, though seldom noticed, can rival skyscrapers in height and measure more than 100 miles wide. They can imperil submarines and disrupt operations on offshore oil platforms. They've been photographed by astronauts in orbit,and they've been cursed by bewildered sailors. Scientists are gaining fresh insights into these massive waves, including their potentially important role in climate change.

22 May 2014

First siting of deep lee waves: Kaena RIdge, Hawaii

EOS, Trans. Am. Geophys. Union, JoAnna Wendel

Previous studies with remote observations and numerical models have predicted the existence of breaking deep internal lee waves driven by the tide, but until now, none have been observed directly.

22 Apr 2014

More News Items

Puget Sound's rich waters supplied by deep, turbulent canyon

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

The headwaters for Puget Sound%u2019s famously rich waters lie far below the surface, in a submarine canyon that draws nutrient-rich water up from the deep ocean. New measurements may explain how the Pacific Northwest%u2019s inland waters are able to support so many shellfish, salmon runs and even the occasional pod of whales.

14 Apr 2014

Scientists say a deep canyon feeds Puget Sound

King5 News (Seattle), Gary Chittim

University of Washington researchers said they are astounded by the volume of deep sea water that is flowing through an underwater canyon at the mouth of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

14 Apr 2014

Samoan Passage cruise on the R/V Thompson

UW News and Information, Hannah Hickey

Oceanographers from the University of Washington's Applied Physics Laboratory are in Samoa for six weeks, the third and final trip studying skyscraper-sized waves that break in a narrow channel in the South Pacific Ocean.

27 Jan 2014

Breaking Underwater Waves Cause Mixing in Deep Ocean

NBC News, Charles Q. Choi

The chaos from skyscraper-tall waves breaking deep underwater has been captured for the first time, researchers say. Turbulence from these waves can generate thousands of times more mixing in the deep ocean than previously thought and, in turn, potentially require a critical rethinking of global models of climate and the oceans, the scientists who got a look at the phenomenon added.

17 Sep 2013

Dot Earth: Deep-ocean waves

The New York Times, Andrew Revkin

Scientists at the University of Washington have found skyscraper-height waves in deep ocean layers in the South Pacific — in some cases breaking in slow motion like surf on a beach. The finding sheds light on processes that allow heat in shallower ocean waters to mix with abyssal currents.

11 Sep 2013

Breaking deep-sea waves reveal mechanism for global ocean mixing

UW News & Information, Hannah Hickey

A University of Washington study for the first time recorded wave breaking in a key bottleneck for circulation in the world%u2019s largest ocean — the Samoan Passage, a narrow channel in the South Pacific Ocean that funnels water flowing from Antarctica.

9 Sep 2013

Tracking skyscraper-high waves across the globe

OceanCurrents Magazine

Internal-wave-driven mixing turns out to be a vital aspect of the ocean's circulation. We currently believe that without breaking internal waves, the deep sea would be a stagnant, homogenous deep pool of cold water with a very thin warm layer atop it. Since we instead observe a much more gradual decrease in temperature, we conclude that there is mixing in the abyss and that breaking internal waves lead to much of it. Therefore, internal wave mixing is part of the "bloodstream" of the ocean, enabling the upward part of the "conveyor belt" circulation by moving cold water upward. And that means that our predictions of climate change have significant uncertainty because we do not fully understand the sources, travel pathways and eventual breaking locations of the internal waves in the sea.

14 Apr 2013

"Kilo Moana" scientists and crew back on dry land after scary moments at sea

KHON 2 (Honolulu), Brianne Randle

The research vessel was on day two of a five-day mission about 60 miles north of Oahu in deep ocean when it began taking on water at the rate of 400 gallons per hour. Students and scientists from Hawaii and the University of Washington were on board and preparing to deploy a mooring to measure waves. "It was extremely unnerving. We have 20 scientists on-board, we have 20 man crew on-board, and I've been sailing for 18 years. I've never been a situation remotely like that before," said oceanographer Matthew Alford.

7 Jan 2012

Wavechasers condemn gummy bears to crushing ocean depths

UW Today, Sandra Hines

Follow the serious science - and the development of novel "Will it crush?" segments inspired by the YouTube hit "Will it blend?" - as University of Washington Wavechasers work in the South Pacific near Samoa. The expedition Oct. 24 to Nov. 5 is led by the UW Applied Physics Laboratory's Matthew Alford, with scientists trying to learn more about waves as tall as skyscrapers that roll along unseen thousands of feet below the ocean surface.

2 Nov 2011

New 'ocean acidification' monitoring equipment deployed off LaPush

Peninsula Daily News

Scientists are optimistic that sophisticated monitors now operating off the North Olympic Peninsula coast will help them understand acidity levels that are skyrocketing both in the ocean and in Puget Sound and Hood Canal.

18 Jul 2010

State's most sophisticated buoy to sample for acidification, oxygen-starved waters

UW News and Information, Sandra Hines

The most sophisticated array of instruments ever put in Washington waters has been mounted on a buoy and Seaglider that will be deployed this week off the coast near La Push, in water that typically makes its way into Puget Sound, according to Jan Newton.

12 Jul 2010

Giant internal waves caught breaking

Discovery Channel News, Larry O

A 900-mile-long string of scientific instruments across a stretch of the open ocean has revealed the first evidence of giant internal waves partially "breaking" inside the oceans.

22 Jan 2008

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