Articles | Volume 8, issue 3
Ocean Sci., 8, 301–317, 2012
Ocean Sci., 8, 301–317, 2012

Research article 03 May 2012

Research article | 03 May 2012

Laminar and weakly turbulent oceanic gravity currents performing inertial oscillations

A. Wirth A. Wirth
  • LEGI/MEIGE/CNRS, UMR5519, France

Abstract. The small scale dynamics of a weakly turbulent oceanic gravity current is determined. The gravity current considered is initially at rest and adjusts by performing inertial oscillations to a geostrophic mean flow. The dynamics is explored with a hierarchy of mathematical models. The most involved are the fully 3-D Navier-Stokes equations subject to the Boussinesq approximation. A 1-D and 0-D mathematical model of the same gravity current dynamics are systematically derived. Using this hierarchy and the numerical solutions of the mathematical models, the turbulent dynamics at the bottom and the interface is explored and their interaction investigated. Three different regimes of the small scale dynamics of the gravity current are identified, they are characterised by laminar flow, coherent roll vortices and turbulent dynamics with coherent streaks and bursts.

The problem of the rectification of the turbulent fluxes, that is, how to average out the fluctuations and calculate their average influence on the flow, is considered. It is shown that two different regimes of friction are superposed, an Ekman friction applies to the average geostrophic flow and a linear friction, not influenced by rotation, to the inertial oscillations. The combination of the two makes the bulk friction non-local in time for the 0-D model.

The implications of the results for parametrisations of the Ekman dynamics and the small scale turbulent fluxes in the planetary boundary layer are discussed.