Journal of Fluid Mechanics

Langmuir turbulence in the ocean

a1 Atmospheric Sciences Department, Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095, USA
a2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado 80307, USA


Solutions are analysed from large-eddy simulations of the phase-averaged equations for oceanic currents in the surface planetary boundary layer (PBL), where the averaging is over high-frequency surface gravity waves. These equations have additional terms proportional to the Lagrangian Stokes drift of the waves, including vortex and Coriolis forces and tracer advection. For the wind-driven PBL, the turbulent Langmuir number, Latur = (U[low asterisk]/Us)1/2, measures the relative influences of directly wind-driven shear (with friction velocity U[low asterisk]) and the Stokes drift Us. We focus on equilibrium solutions with steady, aligned wind and waves and a realistic Latur = 0.3. The mean current has an Eulerian volume transport to the right of the wind and against the Stokes drift. The turbulent vertical fluxes of momentum and tracers are enhanced by the presence of the Stokes drift, as are the turbulent kinetic energy and its dissipation and the skewness of vertical velocity. The dominant coherent structure in the turbulence is a Langmuir cell, which has its strongest vorticity aligned longitudinally (with the wind and waves) and intensified near the surface on the scale of the Stokes drift profile. Associated with this are down-wind surface convergence zones connected to interior circulations whose horizontal divergence axis is rotated about 45° to the right of the wind. The horizontal scale of the Langmuir cells expands with depth, and there are also intense motions on a scale finer than the dominant cells very near the surface. In a turbulent PBL, Langmuir cells have irregular patterns with finite correlation scales in space and time, and they undergo occasional mergers in the vicinity of Y-junctions between convergence zones.

(Received September 29 1995)
(Revised September 30 1996)