What is it about?

In our paper, we use an idealized surface ocean turbulence model that accounts for frontogenesis, a process related to the formation of temperature fronts in the ocean, thus breaking the geostrophic equilibrium (the balance between the pressure gradient force and Coriolis force). Despite its simplicity compared to general circulation models, this model successfully reproduces ocean submesoscale features (i.e. horizontal scales between 5 and 50 km).

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Why is it important?

This work holds importance due to its focus on Lagrangian results, particularly in demonstrating particle aggregation in specific flow regions, while suggesting that small-scale dynamics do not significantly impede the large-scale dispersion of particles within a similar context to our simulations. This has noteworthy implications, especially in the interpretation of data from SWOT (Surface Water and Ocean Topography), a satellite launched in December 2022, providing high-resolution sea surface height data converted into velocity fields through geostrophic balance. The critical insight here is that these fields do not account for non-geostrophic motions, and consequently, particle advection using these fields would not reflect the observed particle clustering in the ocean. Conversely, particle dispersion statistics can be relied upon to some extent, as they remain unaffected by the absence of these non-geostrophic dynamics. To the best of our knowledge, this study appears to be novel in its examination of the influence of non-geostrophic dynamics' intensity on Lagrangian transport.


Like all research endeavors, there are further avenues to explore. In our case, it would be valuable to derive scaling laws that characterize particle dispersion and clustering concerning the intensity of non-geostrophic dynamics. This could provide a more quantitative understanding of these phenomena. Additionally, extending our analysis to more realistic simulations accounting for ageostrophic motions that further deviate from geostrophic equilibrium holds promise for improving the understanding of the interplay between processes acting on different scales. This in turn would enhance our overall comprehension of the complex dynamics characterizing the surface ocean.

Michael Maalouly
Université de Lille

Read the Original

This page is a summary of: Particle dispersion and clustering in surface ocean turbulence with ageostrophic dynamics, Physics of Fluids, December 2023, American Institute of Physics,
DOI: 10.1063/5.0174665.
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