Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 25 Issue 02

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Volume 25, No. 2
Pages 66 - 79


Internal Waves on the Washington Continental Shelf

By Matthew H. Alford , John B. Mickett , Shuang Zhang , Parker MacCready , Zhongxiang Zhao , and Jan Newton 
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Article Abstract

The low-frequency oceanography of the Washington continental shelf has been studied in great detail over the last several decades owing in part to its high productivity but relatively weak upwelling winds compared to other systems. Interestingly, though many internal wave-resolving measurements have been made, there have been no reports on the region’s internal wave climate and the possible feedbacks between internal waves and lower-frequency processes. This paper reports observations over two summers obtained from a new observing system of two moorings and a glider on the Washington continental shelf, with a focus on internal waves and their relationships to lower-frequency currents, stratification, dissolved oxygen, and nutrient distributions. We observe a rich, variable internal wave field that appears to be modulated in part by a coastal jet and its response to the region’s frequent wind reversals. The internal wave spectral level at intermediate frequencies is consistent with the model spectrum of Levine (2002) developed for continental shelves. Superimposed on this continuum are (1) a strong but highly temporally variable semidiurnal internal tide field and (2) an energetic field of high-frequency nonlinear internal waves (NLIWs). Mean semidiurnal energy flux is about 80 W m–1 to the north-northeast. The onshore direction of the flux and its lack of a strong spring/neap cycle suggest it is at least partly generated remotely. Nonlinear wave amplitudes reach 38 m in 100 m of water, making them among the strongest observed on continental shelves of similar depth. They often occur each 12.4 hours, clearly linking them to the tide. Like the internal tide energy flux, the NLIWs are also directed toward the north-northeast. However, their phasing is not constant with respect to either the baroclinic or barotropic currents, and their amplitude is uncorrelated with either internal-tide energy flux or barotropic tidal forcing, suggesting substantial modulation by the low-frequency currents and stratification.


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