Quantifying the Consequences of the Ill-Defined Nature of Neutral Surfaces
Klocker, A and McDougall, TJ, Quantifying the Consequences of the Ill-Defined Nature of Neutral Surfaces, Journal of Physical Oceanography, 40, (8) pp. 1866-1880. ISSN 0022-3670 (2010) [Refereed Article]
In the absence of diapycnal mixing processes, fluid parcels move in directions along which they do not encounter buoyant forces. These directions define the local neutral tangent plane. Because of the nonlinear nature of the equation of state of seawater, these neutral tangent planes cannot be connected globally to form a welldefined surface in three-dimensional space; that is, continuous ‘‘neutral surfaces’’ do not exist. This inability to form well-defined neutral surfaces implies that neutral trajectories are helical. Consequently, even in the absence of diapycnal mixing processes, fluid trajectories penetrate through any ‘‘density’’ surface. This process amounts to an extra mechanism that achieves mean vertical advection through any continuous surface such as surfaces of constant potential density or neutral density. That is, the helical nature of neutral trajectories causes this additional diasurface velocity.Awater-mass analysis performed with respect to continuous density surfaces
will have part of its diapycnal advection due to this diasurface advection process. Hence, this additional diasurface advection should be accounted for when attributing observed water-mass changes to mixing processes.
Here, the authors quantify this component of the total diasurface velocity and show that locally it can be the same order of magnitude as diasurface velocities produced by other mixing processes, particularly in the
Southern Ocean. The magnitude of this diasurface advection is proportional to the ocean’s neutral helicity, which is observed to be quite small in today’s ocean. The authors also use a perturbation experiment to show that the ocean rapidly readjusts to its present state of small neutral helicity, even if perturbed significantly. Additionally, the authors show how seasonal (rather than spatial) changes in the ocean’s hydrography can generate a similar vertical advection process. This process is described here for the first time; although the vertical advection due to this process is small, it helps to understand water-mass transformation on density surfaces.