Observations of Strongly Modulated Surface Wave and Wave Breaking Statistics at...

Vrecica, T., N. Pizzo, and L. Lenain (2022), Observations of Strongly Modulated Surface Wave and Wave Breaking Statistics at a Submesoscale Front, J. Physical Oceanography, 52, 289-304, doi:10.1175/JPO-D-21-0125.1.

Ocean submesoscale currents, with spatial scales on the order of 0.1–10 km, are horizontally divergent flows, leading to vertical motions that are crucial for modulating the fluxes of mass, momentum, and energy between the ocean and the atmosphere, with important implications for biological and chemical processes. Recently, there has been considerable interest in the role of surface waves in modifying frontal dynamics. However, there is a crucial lack of observations of these processes, which are needed to constrain and guide theoretical and numerical models. To this end, we present novel highresolution airborne remote sensing and in situ observations of wave–current interaction at a submesoscale front near the island of O’ahu, Hawaii. We find strong modulation of the surface wave field across the frontal boundary, including enhanced wave breaking, that leads to significant spatial inhomogeneities in the wave and wave breaking statistics. The nonbreaking (i.e., Stokes) and breaking induced drifts are shown to be increased at the boundary by approximately 50% and an order of magnitude, respectively. The momentum flux from the wave field to the water column due to wave breaking is enhanced by an order of magnitude at the front. Using an orthogonal coordinate system that is tangent and normal to the front, we show that these sharp modulations occur over a distance of several meters in the direction normal to the front. Finally, we discuss these observations in the context of improved coupled models of air–sea interaction at a submesoscale front.

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Physical Oceanography Program (POP)