Modulation of surface gravity waves by internal waves

Lenain, L., and N. Pizzo (2021), Modulation of surface gravity waves by internal waves, J. Phys. Oceanogr., doi:10.1175/JPO-D-20-0302.1.

Internal waves are a regular feature of the open ocean and coastal waters. As a train of internal waves propagate, their surface induced currents modulate the surface waves, generating a characteristic rough and smooth banded structure. While the surface expression of these internal waves is well known and has been observed from a variety of remote sensing instruments, direct quantitative observations of the directional properties of the surface gravity wave field modulated by an internal wave remain sparse. In this work, we report on a comprehensive field campaign conducted off the coast of Point Sal, CA in September 2017. Using a unique combination of airborne remote sensing observations, along with in-situ surface and subsurface measurements, we investigate and quantify the interaction between surface gravity and internal wave processes. We find that surface waves are significantly modulated by the currents induced by the internal waves. Through novel observations of ocean topography, we characterize the rapid modification of the directional and spectral properties of surface waves over very short spatial scales (O(100)m or less). Over a range of wavelengths (3-9m waves), geometrical optics and wave action conservation predictions show good agreement with the observed wavenumber spectra in smooth and rough regions of the modulated surface waves. If a parameterization of wave action source terms is used, good agreement is found over a larger range of wavenumbers, down to 4rad/m. These results elucidate properties of surface waves interacting with a submesoscale ocean current, and should provide insight into more general interactions between surface waves and the fine scale structure of the upper ocean.

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Physical Oceanography Program (POP)