Defining and quantifying microscale wave breaking with infrared imagery

Jessup, A. T.; Zappa, Christopher J.; Yeh, Harry

Breaking without air entrainment of very short wind-forced waves, or microscale wave breaking, is undoubtedly widespread over the oceans and may prove to be a significant mechanism for enhancing the transfer of heat and gas across the air-sea interface. However, quantifying the effects of microscale wave breaking has been difficult because the phenomenon lacks the visible manifestation of whitecapping. In this brief report we present limited but promising laboratory measurements which show that microscale wave breaking associated with evolving wind waves disturbs the thermal boundary layer at the air-water interface, producing signatures that can be detected with infrared imagery. Simultaneous video and infrared observations show that the infrared signature itself may serve as a practical means of defining and characterizing the microscale breaking process. The infrared imagery is used to quantify microscale breaking waves in terms of the frequency of occurrence and the areal coverage, which is substantial under the moderate wind speed conditions investigated. The results imply that ”bursting“ phenomena observed beneath laboratory wind waves are likely produced by microscale breaking waves but that not all microscale breaking waves produce bursts. Oceanic measurements show the ability to quantify microscale wave breaking in the field. Our results demonstrate that infrared techniques can provide the information necessary to quantify the breaking process for inclusion in models of air-sea heat and gas fluxes, as well as unprecedented details on the origin and evolution of microscale wave breaking.


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Also Published In

Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans

More About This Work

Academic Units
Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory
Ocean and Climate Physics
American Geophysical Union
Published Here
March 7, 2016