Theses Doctoral

Wave breaking at high wind speeds and its effects on air-sea gas transfer

Brumer, Sophia Eleonora

Gravity waves are ubiquitous at the surface of the ocean and play a key role in the coupled ocean-atmosphere system. These wind generated waves, for which gravity provides the restoring force, influence the kinematics and dynamics of the upper ocean and lower atmosphere. Their breaking injects turbulence into the upper ocean, generates bubble plumes and sea-spray thus transferring energy, momentum, heat and mass between the atmosphere and the ocean. In the anthropocene, with CO2 driving the warming trend and the ocean acting as the main carbon sink, it is imperative to understand the complex physical controls of air-sea gas transfer. Large uncertainties still remain under high wind speed conditions where wave breaking processes are dominant. This dissertation seeks to shed light onto the dependence of wave breaking and air-sea gas transfer on environmental parameters. It further explores process based models of air-sea gas transfer that explicitly account for the breaking related processes.
Air entraining breaking waves are easily detectable as bright features on the ocean surface composed of foam and subsurface bubble plumes. These features, termed whitecaps, arise at wind speed as as low as 3 m s−1 . The whitecap coverage (W) has been recognized as a useful proxy for quantifying wave breaking related processes. It can be determined from shipboard, air-borne and satellite remote sensing. W is most commonly parameterized as a function of wind speed, but previous parameterizations display over three orders of magnitude scatter. Concurrent wave field and flux measurements acquired during the Southern Ocean Gas Exchange (SO GasEx) and the High Wind Gas exchange Study (HiWinGS) projects permitted evaluation of the dependence of W on wind speed, wave age, wave steepness, mean square slope, as well as on wave-wind and breaking Reynolds numbers. W was determined from over 600 high frequency visible imagery recordings of 20 minutes each. Wave statistics were computed from in situ and remotely sensed data as well as from a WAVEWATCH-III® hind cast. The first ship-borne estimates of W under sustained wind speeds (U10N ) of 25 m s−1 were obtained during HiWinGS. These measurements suggest that W levels off at high wind speed, not exceeding 10% when averaged over 20 minutes. Combining wind speed and wave height in the form of the wave-wind Reynolds number resulted in closely agreeing models for both datasets, individually and combined. These are also in good agreement with two previous studies. When expressing W in terms of wave field statistics only or wave age, larger scatter is observed and/or there is little agreement between SO GasEx, HiWinGS, and previously published data. The wind–speed-only parameterizations deduced from the SO GasEx and HiWinGS datasets agree closely and capture more of the observed W variability than Reynolds number parameterizations. However, these wind-speed-only models do not agree as well with previous studies than the wind-wave Reynolds numbers.

The ability to quantify air-sea gas transfer hinges on parameterizations of the gas transfer velocity k. k represents physical mass transfer mechanisms and is usually parameterized as a non-linear function of wind forcing. Previous eddy-covariance measurements and models based on the global radio carbon inventory led to diverging parameterizations with both cubic and quadratic wind speed dependence. At wind speeds above 10 m s−1 these parameterizations differ considerably and measurements display large scatter. In an attempt to reduce uncertainties in k, explored empirical parameterizations that incorporate both wind speed and sea state dependence via breaking and wave-wind Reynolds numbers, were explored. Analysis of concurrent eddy covariance gas transfer and measured wave field statistics supplemented by wave model hindcasts shows for the first time that wave-related Reynold numbers collapse four open ocean datasets that have a wind speed dependence of CO2 transfer velocity ranging from lower than quadratic to cubic. Wave-related Reynolds number and wind speed show comparable performance for parametrizing DMS which, because of its higher solubility, is less affected by bubble-mediated exchange associated with wave breaking.

While single parameter models may be readily used in climate studies, their application is gas specific and may be limited to select environments. Physically based parameterizations that incorporate multiple forcing factors allow to model the gas transfer of gases with differing solubility for a wide range of environmental conditions. Existing mechanistic models were tested and a novel framework to model gas transfer in the open ocean in the presence of breaking waves is put forward. This analysis allowed to update NOAA’s Coupled OceanAtmosphere Response Experiment Gas transfer algorithm (COAREG) and exposed limitation of other existing physically based parameterizations. The newly proposed mechanistic model incorporates both the turbulence and bubble mediated transfer. It is based on various statistics determined from the breaking crest length distribution (Λ(c)). Λ(c) was obtained by tracking the advancing front of breaking waves in the high frequency videos taken during HiWinGS. Testing the mechanistic model with the HiWinGS dataset shows promising results for both CO2 and DMS, though it does not perform better than COAREG. Uncertainties remain in the quantification of bubble cloud which are at the core of the formulation of the bubble mediated transfer and additional field measurements are necessary to characterize bubble plume properties in the open ocean.


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More About This Work

Academic Units
Earth and Environmental Sciences
Thesis Advisors
Zappa, Christopher J.
Ph.D., Columbia University
Published Here
September 14, 2017