Relative Dispersion in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current

(Balwada, Dhruv and LaCasce, Joseph H. and Speer, Kevin G. and Ferrari, Raffaele), Journal of Physical Oceanography, vol. 51, no. 2, pp. pages, 2021.


Stirring in the subsurface Southern Ocean is examined using RAFOS float trajectories, collected during the Diapycnal and Isopycnal Mixing Experiment in the Southern Ocean (DIMES), along with particle trajectories from a regional eddy permitting model. A central question is the extent to which the stirring is local, by eddies comparable in size to the pair separation, or nonlocal, by eddies at larger scales. To test this, we examine metrics based on averaging in time and in space. The model particles exhibit nonlocal dispersion, as expected for a limited resolution numerical model that does not resolve flows at scales smaller than $sim$10 days or $sim$20–30 km. The different metrics are less consistent for the RAFOS floats; relative dispersion, kurtosis, and relative diffusivity suggest nonlocal dispersion as they are consistent with the model within error, while finite-size Lyapunov exponents (FSLE) suggests local dispersion. This occurs for two reasons: (i) limited sampling of the inertial length scales and a relatively small number of pairs hinder statistical robustness in time-based metrics, and (ii) some space-based metrics (FSLE, second-order structure functions), which do not average over wave motions and are reflective of the kinetic energy distribution, are probably unsuitable to infer dispersion characteristics if the flow field includes energetic wave motions that do not disperse particles. The relative diffusivity, which is also a space-based metric, allows averaging over waves to infer the dispersion characteristics. Hence, given the error characteristics of the metrics and data used here, the stirring in the DIMES region is likely to be nonlocal at scales of 5–100 km.

doi = 10.1175/jpo-d-19-0243.1

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