Oceanic eddies induce a rapid formation of an internal wave continuum

Luwei Yang*, Roy Barkan*, Kaushik Srinivasan, James C. McWilliams, Callum J. Shakespeare, Angus H. Gibson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


Oceanic internal waves are a major driver for turbulent mixing in the ocean, which controls the global overturning circulation and the oceanic heat and carbon transport. Internal waves are observed to have a continuous energy distribution across all wave frequencies and scales, commonly known as the internal wave continuum, despite being forced at near-inertial and tidal frequencies at large scales. This internal wave continuum is widely thought to be developed primarily through wave-wave interactions. Here we show, using realistic numerical simulations in the subpolar North Atlantic, that oceanic eddies rapidly distribute large-scale wind-forced near-inertial wave energy across spatio-temporal scales, thereby forming an internal wave continuum within three weeks. As a result, wave energy dissipation patterns are controlled by eddies and are substantially enhanced below the mixed layer. The efficiency of this process potentially explains why a phase lag between high-frequency and near-inertial wave energy was observed in eddy-poor regions but not in eddy-rich regions. Our findings highlight the importance of eddies in forming an internal wave continuum and in controlling upper ocean mixing patterns.

Original languageEnglish
Article number484
JournalCommunications Earth and Environment
Issue number1
StatePublished - Dec 2023


FundersFunder number
National Science FoundationOCE030007, EES220050
Israel Science Foundation1736/18


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