Tilting separation flows: A mechanism for intense vertical mixing in the coastal ocean

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Observations of a front associated with boundary layer separation from a headland illustrate a mechanism by which horizontal density gradients create intense turbulence and vertical mixing, thus, contributing to water property modification in the coastal zone. Tidal current past an island separates from the coast, creating a shear zone between the primary flow and the slowly moving water in the lee of the island. The density structure on either side of the front may differ due to different origins or degrees of prior mixing. Consequently, there can be horizontal density gradients across the front. Boundary layer separation from the headland begins as a vertical vortex sheet on which instabilities grow to form a sequence of eddies. The presence of horizontal density gradients causes the shear layer to tilt. Tilting and stretching of the sheared flow generates intense circulation. Whirlpools and boils appear at the surface accompanied by vertical motions in which broad areas of upwelling alternate with narrow areas of downwelling. These mix the water throughout its depth; bubbles entrained at the surface reach depths of over 120 m. Such violent mixing weakens stratification associated with the estuarine circulation and aerates water masses passing through the area. © 2002 Elsevier Science B.V. All rights reserved.

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Dynamics of Atmospheres and Oceans