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Inferring tracer diffusivity from coherent mesoscale eddies
  • Wenda Zhang,
  • Christopher Lee Pitt Wolfe
Wenda Zhang
Princeton University

Corresponding Author:wenda.zhang@princeton.edu

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Christopher Lee Pitt Wolfe
Stony Brook University
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Mixing along isopycnals plays an important role in the transport and uptake of oceanic tracers. Isopycnal mixing is commonly quantified by a tracer diffusivity. Previous studies have estimated the tracer diffusivity using the rate of dispersion of surface drifters, subsurface floats, or numerical particles advected by satellite-derived velocity fields. This study shows that the diffusivity can be more efficiently estimated from the dispersion of coherent mesoscale eddies. Coherent eddies are identified and tracked as the persistent sea surface height extrema in both a two-layer quasigeostrophic (QG) model and an idealized primitive equation (PE) model. The Lagrangian diffusivity is estimated using the tracks of these coherent eddies and compared to the diagnosed Eulerian diffusivity. It is found that the meridional coherent eddy diffusivity approaches a stable value within about 20–40 days in both models. In the QG model, the coherent eddy diffusivity is a good approximation to the upper-layer tracer diffusivity in a broad range of flow regimes, except for small values of bottom friction or planetary vorticity gradient, where long-range correlations between same-sign eddies become important. In the PE model, the tracer diffusivity has a complicated vertical structure and the coherent eddy diffusivity is correlated with the tracer diffusivity at the e-folding depth of the energy-containing eddies where the intrinsic speed of the coherent eddies matches the rms eddy velocity. These results suggest that the oceanic tracer diffusivity at depth can be estimated from the movements of coherent mesoscale eddies, which are routinely tracked from satellite observations.
18 Sep 2023Submitted to ESS Open Archive
21 Sep 2023Published in ESS Open Archive