Biases in Thorpe-Scale Estimates of Turbulence Dissipation. Part I: Assessments from Large-Scale Overturns in Oceanographic Data Public Deposited

This is the publisher’s final pdf. The published article is copyrighted by American Meteorological Society and can be found at:


Attribute NameValues
Abstract or Summary
  • Oceanic density overturns are commonly used to parameterize the dissipation rate of turbulent kinetic energy. This method assumes a linear scaling between the Thorpe length scale L[subscript]T and the Ozmidov length scale L[subscript]O. Historic evidence supporting L[subscript]T ~ L[subscript]O has been shown for relatively weak shear-driven turbulence of the thermocline; however, little support for the method exists in regions of turbulence driven by the convective collapse of topographically influenced overturns that are large by open-ocean standards. This study presents a direct comparison of L[subscript]T and L[subscript]O, using vertical profiles of temperature and microstructure shear collected in the Luzon Strait—a site characterized by topographically influenced overturns up to O(100) m in scale. The comparison is also done for open-ocean sites in the Brazil basin and North Atlantic where overturns are generally smaller and due to different processes. A key result is that L[subscript]T/L[subscript]O increases with overturn size in a fashion similar to that observed in numerical studies of Kelvin–Helmholtz (K–H) instabilities for all sites but is most clear in data from the Luzon Strait. Resultant bias in parameterized dissipation is mitigated by ensemble averaging; however, a positive bias appears when instantaneous observations are depth and time integrated. For a series of profiles taken during a spring tidal period in the Luzon Strait, the integrated value is nearly an order of magnitude larger than that based on the microstructure observations. Physical arguments supporting L[subscript]T ~ L[subscript]O are revisited, and conceptual regimes explaining the relationship between L[subscript]T/L[subscript]O and a nondimensional overturn size are proposed. In a companion paper, Scotti obtains similar conclusions from energetics arguments and simulations.
Resource Type
Date Available
Date Issued
  • Mater, B. D., Venayagamoorthy, S. K., St. Laurent, L., & Moum, J. N. (2015). Biases in Thorpe-Scale Estimates of Turbulence Dissipation. Part I: Assessments from Large-Scale Overturns in Oceanographic Data. Journal of Physical Oceanography, 45(10), 2497-2521. doi:10.1175/JPO-D-14-0128.1
Rights Statement
Funding Statement (additional comments about funding)
Peer Reviewed



This work has no parents.

Last modified

Downloadable Content

Download PDF