Resolving high-frequency internal waves generated at an isolated coral atoll using an unstructured grid ocean model

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Abstract

We apply the unstructured grid hydrodynamic model SUNTANS to investigate the internal wave dynamics around Scott Reef, Western Australia, an isolated coral reef atoll located on the edge of the continental shelf in water depths of 500,m and more. The atoll is subject to strong semi-diurnal tidal forcing and consists of two relatively shallow lagoons separated by a 500 m deep, 2 km wide and 15 km long channel. We focus on the dynamics in this channel as the internal tide-driven flow and resulting mixing is thought to be a key mechanism controlling heat and nutrient fluxes into the reef lagoons. We use an unstructured grid to discretise the domain and capture both the complex topography and the range of internal wave length scales in the channel flow. The model internal wave field shows super-tidal frequency lee waves generated by the combination of the steep channel topography and strong tidal flow. We evaluate the model performance using observations of velocity and temperature from two through water-column moorings in the channel separating the two reefs. Three different global ocean state estimate datasets (global HYCOM, CSIRO Bluelink, CSIRO climatology atlas) were used to provide the model initial and boundary conditions, and the model outputs from each were evaluated against the field observations. The scenario incorporating the CSIRO Bluelink data performed best in terms of through-water column Murphy skill scores of water temperature and eastward velocity variability in the channel. The model captures the observed vertical structure of the tidal (M2) and super-tidal (M4) frequency temperature and velocity oscillations. The model also predicts the direction and magnitude of the M2 internal tide energy flux. An energy analysis reveals a net convergence of the M2 energy flux and a divergence of the M4 energy flux in the channel, indicating the channel is a region of either energy transfer to higher frequencies or energy loss to dissipation. This conclusion is supported by the mooring observations that reveal high frequency lee waves breaking on the turning phase of the tide.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)67-84
Number of pages18
JournalOcean Modelling
Volume122
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2018

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