Global Patterns of Mesoscale Eddy Properties and Diffusivities

Klocker, Andreas; Abernathey, Ryan Patrick

Mesoscale eddies play a major role in the transport of tracers in the ocean. Focusing on a sector in the east Pacific, the authors present estimates of eddy diffusivities derived from kinematic tracer simulations using satellite-observed velocity fields. Meridional diffusivities are diagnosed, and how they are related to eddy properties through the mixing length formulation of Ferrari and Nikurashin, which accounts for the suppression of diffusivity due to eddy propagation relative to the mean flow, is shown. The uniqueness of this study is that, through systematically varying the zonal-mean flow, a hypothetical “unsuppressed” diffusivity is diagnosed. At a given latitude, the unsuppressed diffusivity occurs when the zonal-mean flow equals the eddy phase speed. This provides an independent estimate of eddy phase propagation, which agrees well with theoretical arguments. It is also shown that the unsuppressed diffusivity is predicted very well by classical mixing length theory, that is, that it is proportional to the rms eddy velocity times the observed eddy size, with a spatially constant mixing efficiency of 0.35. Then, the suppression factor is estimated and it is shown that it too can be understood quantitatively in terms of easily observed mean flow properties. The authors then extrapolate from these sector experiments to the global scale, making predictions for the global surface eddy diffusivity. Together with a prognostic equation for eddy kinetic energy and a theory explaining observed eddy sizes, these concepts could potentially be used in a closure for eddy diffusivities in coarse-resolution ocean climate models.


Also Published In

Journal of Physical Oceanography

More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Meteorological Society
Published Here
March 24, 2016