Ocean Mixing in a Shelf Sea Driven by Energetic Internal Waves

C. A. Whitwell, N. L. Jones, G. N. Ivey, M. G. Rosevear, M. D. Rayson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Internal waves drive ocean mixing and enhance the transport of heat, momentum and other tracers in shelf seas. We collected observations of mixing over a 30-day period from three cross-shore moorings placed on the 330, 200 and 150 m isobaths on the offshore side of a pelagic ridge on the Australian North West Shelf. The region is forced by energetic surface and internal tides, exhibits non-linear internal waves, experiences flow-topography interactions, and is subject to episodic intense wind events. This complex forcing drove energetic diapycnal mixing at all sites. We identified five dominant internal wave forcing categories: mode-1 waves at low-frequency (time scales from double the buoyancy period to 4 hr), mode-1 waves at high-frequency (HF) (time scales between the buoyancy period and double the buoyancy period), mode-2 waves, internal bores, and internal hydraulic jumps. Overall, just 15% of mixing events accounted for 90% of the total observed heat flux over the record. Mixing during internal wave events accounted for as much as 50% of the total heat flux in some locations. Of the internal wave categories, HF mode-1 waves were the most significant contributors to the total heat flux at all sites (∼20%). On the other hand, internal bores made significant contributions to mixing only at the 200 and 150 m moorings; they made no contribution to mixing at the 330 m mooring. At the shallowest mooring, the different internal wave categories all made similar contributions to the total flux, indicating an increasingly complicated relationship between the evolving internal wavefield and the mixing.

Original languageEnglish
Article numbere2023JC019704
Number of pages23
JournalJournal of Geophysical Research: Oceans
Issue number2
Early online date31 Jan 2024
Publication statusPublished - Feb 2024


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