Environmental Science and Engineering Seminar
The Role of Isopycnal Mixing in Ocean Transport
Water parcels in the ocean can move freely along surfaces of constant potential density ("isopycnals") without experiencing any buoyant restoring force. This, combined with the stirring action of mesoscale eddies, leads to the phenomenon of isopycnal mixing. While textbook descriptions of ocean transport tend to focus on advection (including the meridional overturning circulation) and vertical mixing, recent studies reveal how isopycnal mixing plays an important role in regulating water mass transformation, ocean uptake of heat and carbon, and the supply of nutrients to phytoplankton. My talk will provide a broad overview of this topic and describe some our group's recent research using idealized ocean simulations to probe the fundamental physics and earth-system impacts of isopycnal mixing. I'll also discuss how isopycnal mixing is parameterized in earth-system models and speculate about the prospects of directly resolving the isopycnal mixing process in the latest generation of eddy-resolving ocean simulations.