Research Article

Enhanced Turbulence and Energy Dissipation at Ocean Fronts

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Science  15 Apr 2011:
Vol. 332, Issue 6027, pp. 318-322
DOI: 10.1126/science.1201515

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The ocean surface boundary layer mediates air-sea exchange. In the classical paradigm and in current climate models, its turbulence is driven by atmospheric forcing. Observations at a 1-kilometer-wide front within the Kuroshio Current indicate that the rate of energy dissipation within the boundary layer is enhanced by one to two orders of magnitude, suggesting that the front, rather than the atmospheric forcing, supplied the energy for the turbulence. The data quantitatively support the hypothesis that winds aligned with the frontal velocity catalyzed a release of energy from the front to the turbulence. The resulting boundary layer is stratified in contrast to the classically well-mixed layer. These effects will be strongest at the intense fronts found in the Kuroshio Current, the Gulf Stream, and the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, all of which are key players in the climate system.

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