Double-Diffusive Recipes. Part I: Large-Scale Dynamics of Thermohaline Staircases
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Three-dimensional dynamics of thermohaline staircases are investigated using a series of basin-scale staircase-resolving numerical simulations. The computational domain and forcing fields are chosen to reflect the size and structure of the North Atlantic subtropical thermocline. Salt-finger transport is parameterized using the flux-gradient formulation based on a suite of recent direct numerical simulations. Analysis of the spontaneous generation of thermohaline staircases suggests that thermohaline layering is a product of the gamma instability, associated with the variation of the flux ratio g with the density ratio Rr. After their formation, numerical staircases undergo a series of merging events, which systematically increase the size of layers. Ultimately, the system evolves into a steady equilibrium state with pronounced layers 20–50m thick. The size of the region occupied by thermohaline staircases is controlled by the competition between turbulent mixing and double diffusion. Assuming, in accordance with observations, that staircases form when the density ratio is less than the critical value of Rcr ’1:7, the authors arrive at an indirect estimate of the characteristic turbulent diffusivity in the subtropical thermocline.
The article of record as published may be found at http://dx.doi.org/10.1175/JPO-D-13-0155.1
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