Journal of Fluid Mechanics


Surface gravity wave effects in the oceanic boundary layer: large-eddy simulation with vortex force and stochastic breakers


a1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, CO 80307, USA

a2 Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences and Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Los Angeles, CA 90095-1565, USA

a3 Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego, La Jolla, CA 92093-0213, USA


The wind-driven stably stratified mid-latitude oceanic surface turbulent boundary layer is computationally simulated in the presence of a specified surface gravity-wave field. The gravity waves have broad wavenumber and frequency spectra typical of measured conditions in near-equilibrium with the mean wind speed. The simulation model is based on (i) an asymptotic theory for the conservative dynamical effects of waves on the wave-averaged boundary-layer currents and (ii) a boundary-layer forcing by a stochastic representation of the impulses and energy fluxes in a field of breaking waves. The wave influences are shown to be profound on both the mean current profile and turbulent statistics compared to a simulation without these wave influences and forced by an equivalent mean surface stress. As expected from previous studies with partial combinations of these wave influences, Langmuir circulations due to the wave-averaged vortex force make vertical eddy fluxes of momentum and material concentration much more efficient and non-local (i.e. with negative eddy viscosity near the surface), and they combine with the breakers to increase the turbulent energy and dissipation rate. They also combine in an unexpected positive feedback in which breaker-generated vorticity seeds the creation of a new Langmuir circulation and instigates a deep strong intermittent downwelling jet that penetrates through the boundary layer and increases the material entrainment rate at the base of the layer. These wave effects on the boundary layer are greater for smaller wave ages and higher mean wind speeds.

(Received October 06 2006)

(Revised August 30 2007)