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Testing the assumptions underlying ocean mixing methodologies using direct numerical simulations

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Taylor, JR 
de Bruyn Kops, SM 
Caulfield, CP 
Linden, PF 


jats:titleAbstract</jats:title>jats:pDirect numerical simulations of stratified turbulence are used to test several fundamental assumptions involved in the Osborn, Osborn–Cox, and Thorpe methods commonly used to estimate the turbulent diffusivity from field measurements. The forced simulations in an idealized triply periodic computational domain exhibit characteristic features of stratified turbulence including intermittency and layer formation. When calculated using the volume-averaged dissipation rates from the simulations, the vertical diffusivities inferred from the Osborn and Osborn–Cox methods are within 40% of the value diagnosed using the volume-averaged buoyancy flux for all cases, while the Thorpe-scale method performs similarly well in the simulation with a relatively large buoyancy Reynolds number (Rejats:subjats:italicb</jats:italic></jats:sub> ≃ 240) but significantly overestimates the vertical diffusivity in simulations with Rejats:subjats:italicb</jats:italic></jats:sub> < 60. The methods are also tested using a limited number of vertical profiles randomly selected from the computational volume. The Osborn, Osborn–Cox, and Thorpe-scale methods converge to their respective estimates based on volume-averaged statistics faster than the vertical diffusivity calculated directly from the buoyancy flux, which is contaminated with reversible contributions from internal waves. When applied to a small number of vertical profiles, several assumptions underlying the Osborn and Osborn–Cox methods are not well supported by the simulation data. However, the vertical diffusivity inferred from these methods compares reasonably well to the exact value from the simulations and outperforms the assumptions underlying these methods in terms of the relative error. Motivated by a recent theoretical development, it is speculated that the Osborn method might provide a reasonable approximation to the diffusivity associated with the jats:italicirreversible</jats:italic> buoyancy flux.</jats:p>



Mixing, Small scale processes, Turbulence, In situ oceanic observations, Profilers, oceanic, Nonhydrostatic models

Journal Title

Journal of Physical Oceanography

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American Meteorological Society


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Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EP/K034529/1)
European Research Council (742480)