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Keywords:

  • Langmuir circulation;
  • bubbles;
  • upper ocean turbulence

In the surface ocean, breaking waves are a major source of air bubbles and turbulent kinetic energy. During the presence of a consistent surface wind, these wave-generated bubbles, along with other surface material like seaweed or foam, can be drawn into long rows along the surface. Driving this organization is Langmuir circulation, a phenomenon in which the wind and waves cause surface waters to rotate helically, moving like a wire wrapped around a pole in the windward direction. These spiral currents oscillate between clockwise and counterclockwise rotations, such that in some places the surface waters are pushed together and in others they are pulled apart. Researchers have previously found that at sites of convergence the bubbles produced by breaking waves are pushed to depths of 15 meters or more, with important implications for air-sea gas mixing and other processes.