Dynamics and modelling of the oceanic surface boundary layer




Zahariev, Konstantin

Journal Title

Journal ISSN

Volume Title



The oceanic surface boundary layer is of great importance and interest as its dynamics provides for the exchange of energy, momentum, heat and matter between the atmosphere and the ocean. It is crucial to have a thorough understanding of physical processes that might have a significant influence on its properties and variability. In this study I consider several different facets of mixed layer/boundary layer dynamics. One aspects concerns the consequences of the nonlinearity of the equation of state in mixed layer models. The nonlinearity of the equation of state gives rise to a term in the averaged surface buoyancy flux which can be comparable in magnitude to other terms. Its magnitude is shown to be proportional to the area enclosed by the seasonal cycle of sea-surface temperature T₅ versus the oceanic heat content H. The term always represents a buoyancy input into the ocean and is compensated exactly by the buoyancy loss via cabbeling (densification on mixing) whenever the mixed layer entrains water with different properties from below. Another problem of interest is the role of the coherent wind-induced vortices, commonly known as Langmuir circulation, in generating the surface mixed layer. A simple parameterization of the mixing due to Langmuir circulation is examined in the light of an oceanic dataset. Some evidence for the validity of the parameterization is found, thus drawing attention to Langmuir's assertion that Langmuir circulation is one of the key physical processes in the oceanic boundary layer. The third aspect of surface boundary layer dynamics explored is the mean effect on mixed layer entrainment of periodic vertical movement of isopycnals in the thermocline due to non-breaking internal waves (referred to as heaving). Seasonal model runs incorporating idealized heaving show that heaving can produce significant seasonal differences in sea-surface temperature compared to a reference case without heaving. It is inferred that by periodically stretching and compressing the mixed layer, heaving causes instabilities that result in additional entrainment of colder water from below. A heaving number RH is proposed, and two parameterizations of heaving for use in mixed layer models are suggested.



Boundary layer, Ocean temperature, Ocean circulation