Estimates of gradient Richardson numbers from vertically smoothed data in the Gulf Stream region
Keywords:shear mixing, geostrophic shear, ageostrophic motions, Richardson number, data smoothing
We use several hydrographic and velocity sections crossing the Gulf Stream to examine how the gradient Richardson number, Ri, is modified due to both vertical smoothing of the hydrographic and/or velocity fields and the assumption of parallel or geostrophic flow. Vertical smoothing of the original (25 m interval) velocity field leads to a substantial increase in the Ri mean value, of the same order as the smoothing factor, while its standard deviation remains approximately constant. This contrasts with very minor changes in the distribution of the Ri values due to vertical smoothing of the density field over similar lengths. Mean geostrophic Ri values remain always above the actual unsmoothed Ri values, commonly one to two orders of magnitude larger, but the standard deviation is typically a factor of five larger in geostrophic than in actual Ri values. At high vertical wavenumbers (length scales below 3 m) the geostrophic shear only leads to near critical conditions in already rather mixed regions. At these scales, hence, the major contributor to shear mixing is likely to come from the interaction of the background flow with internal waves. At low vertical wavenumbers (scales above 25 m) the ageostrophic motions provide the main source for shear, with cross-stream movements having a minor but non-negligible contribution. These large-scale motions may be associated with local accelerations taking place during frontogenetic phases of meanders.
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