Oceanography The Official Magazine of
The Oceanography Society
Volume 17 Issue 01

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Volume 17, No. 1
Pages 55 - 64

The Role of Small-Scale Topography in Turbulent Mixing of the Global Ocean

Eric Kunze Stefan G. Llewellyn Smith
First Paragraph

Maintenance of the observed basin-scale thermohaline (temperature T and salinity S) structure of the world’s oceans appears to require mixing to provide dense abyssal waters, which are formed at high latitudes, a pathway back to the surface (Munk and Wunsch, 1998). Small-scale bottom roughness affects mixing processes in the ocean through drag on sinking outflow plumes and abyssal currents on topographic length scales of 0.2–10 km, and through critical reflection (10–100 km) and scattering (0.1–1 km) of internal wave energy to short length scales where it can be lost to turbulent dissipation and mixing. Thus, to understand the thermohaline structure of the oceans, as well as the meridional thermohaline circulation, we must understand the role of turbulent mixing on ocean circulation. This, in turn, requires better-resolved global bathymetry than presently available.


Kunze, E., and S.G. Llewellyn Smith. 2004. The role of small-scale topography in turbulent mixing of the global ocean. Oceanography 17(1):55–64, https://doi.org/10.5670/oceanog.2004.67.