Understanding tidal mixing at the Strait of Gibraltar: A high-resolution model approach

Gonzalez, Nicolas M. ; Waldman, Robin ; Sannino, Gianmaria ; Giordani, Hervé ; Somot, Samuel

Année de publication
2023
Résumé
<p align=justify>The Strait of Gibraltar is a narrow and shallow channel that controls the Mediterranean Sea thermohaline and biogeochemical balances. Strong tidal currents significantly modulate exchanges across this strait and induce an intense vertical mixing, impacting both the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean on a climatic scale. However, the turbulent processes controlling the tidal mixing location, timing, and magnitude remain unclear. To fill this gap, we investigate tidal mixing at the Strait of Gibraltar in yearly twin tidal and non-tidal simulations from a regional configuration of the three-dimensional numerical model MITgcm, using a high spatial resolution around the Strait of Gibraltar (1/200°, 100 vertical levels). More specifically, we investigate the model turbulence closure scheme, based on a turbulent kinetic energy budget, and illustrate that vertical buoyancy fluxes should be preferred to diapycnal diffusivities as mixing indicators. In agreement with previous literature, we find that tides strongly intensify vertical mixing and motions within the Strait of Gibraltar. We then demonstrate that tidal mixing relies on two main ingredients: a sustained vertical shear of horizontal velocities and a local weakening of stratification. In the Mediterranean layer, the former drives diapycnal mixing near the seafloor and the latter in shallower areas above the prominent sills of the strait. We also evidence the frequent but irregular occurrences of static instabilities in the vicinity of these sills. In the Atlantic layer, both vertical shear and stratification are involved in diapycnal mixing that develops along the trail of the eastward internal bore released at the Camarinal sill. At high frequency, the local weakening of stratification results from convergence and divergence patterns in the vicinity of the Camarinal and Espartel sills, feeding recirculation cells between the Atlantic and Mediterranean layers. In addition, we highlight that diapycnal mixing mainly develops during the westward tidal phase in the Mediterranean layer and the eastward tidal phase in the Atlantic layer. We conclude by proposing a revised conceptual view of tidal mixing at the Strait of Gibraltar, where tidally-induced recirculation cells play an instrumental role in transforming the exchanged water masses. Overall, this study emphasizes the relevance of a realistic representation of both tides and abrupt topography to simulate the exchanges through the Strait of Gibraltar and argues for the use of a specific tidal mixing parameterization otherwise.</p>
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