Energy Transfer Studies Across the Air-Sea Interface




​​Dr. Alejandro Cifuentes-Lorenzen, assistant professor of oceanography at CSU Maritime Academy, currently leads a National Science Foundation collaborative research award. The collaborative effort includes University of Connecticut, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution, University of Rhode Island and Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory at Columbia University. 

The experiment focuses on the mechanical energy transfer across the air-sea interface and the role of surface gravity waves at the boundary by dynamically linking the atmosphere and ocean through a unique set of turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) dissipation rate measurements and measurements of breaking wave statistics. To elucidate air-sea wave-driven turbulence, the project team measured the vertical structure of the TKE dissipation rate across the air-sea interface from the Air Sea Interaction Tower at Martha’s Vineyard Coastal Observatory (atmospheric side) complemented with simultaneous measurements of subsurface TKE dissipation rates (ocean side). Indirect and direct observations of the energy flux divergence (wave-induced transport) on the atmospheric side will be used to constrain the magnitude of the air-sea TKE transfer rate and to provide an upper bound to the TKE injection by wave breaking (i.e., the breaker work). Direct estimates of active breaking and the resulting foam (i.e., whitecaps) on the ocean surface will be used to study the connection between the surface manifestation of breaking waves and the expected enhancement of the TKE dissipation rate. On the ocean side, measurements of TKE dissipation rate and the TKE production and transport terms throughout the water column will be made using several complementary techniques. Using these measurements, the team will explore the expected TKE dissipation rate deficit/surplus at the interface relative to a rigid-wall and assess the role of surface gravity waves in the [expected] deviations from it. 

The field campaign hosts a wide range of atmospheric and subsurface instrumentation with an experienced, diverse team of experts in different areas behind it. 

Together, the proposed measurements of turbulence across the air-sea interface will enhance the understanding of coupled boundary layer dynamics and will improve existing and future air-sea interaction parameterizations in an effort to improve ocean-atmosphere circulation and climate models. Undergraduate research experiences are being provided through an existing NSF-REU program (URI) and a new NSF-REU supported student at Cal Maritime.