Nonbreaking waves cause near-surface turbulence


  • Colin Schultz


Surface ocean turbulence is predominantly generated by two forces: near-surface winds and breaking waves. Where waves crash, strong downwelling can induce mixing of the upper few dozen meters, while winds establish larger turbulent vortices. A third known mechanism exists for generating near-surface turbulence, the propagation of nonbreaking surface waves. However, it is typically overlooked as being too minute to matter. Recent research has suggested that nonbreaking waves may be a more important mechanism than previously thought. Using a laboratory wave tank and a numerical turbulence model, Savelyev et al. found that propagating nonbreaking waves not only can induce near-surface eddies but also can modulate and feed into existing turbulent dynamics.