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The Ebb and Flow of Tidal Science, and the Impact of Satellite Altimetry

Richard Ray(1) and Gary Egbert(2)

(1) NASA GSFC, Code 697, Greenbelt, MD 20771, United States
(2) Oregon State University, COAS, Corvallis, OR , United States

Abstract

In the years immediately preceding the launches of Geosat and Topex/Poseidon, tidal science had lapsed into a period of uncertainty and discouragement, brought about by the failure of once-exciting new ideas that eventually proved overly optimistic. A long list of outstanding problems presented themselves, but progress had reached a "low water mark". What was lacking was a high-quality global dataset of tidal measurements, which satellite altimetry -- and especially Topex/Poseidon -- provided. With these data in hand, a "flood tide" of marked progress resulted. In this paper we review some of that progress.

An important area of progress, with potentially important implications for other areas of physical oceanography, falls under the topic of "energy dissipation." With precise global constraints provided by altimetry -- combined with precise laser tracking of the altimeter, other geodetic satellites like Lageos, as well as the moon -- the planetary energy budgets of both Earth and ocean tides are now well determined. Moreover, the local energy balances, and thus local estimates of tidal dissipation, have now been mapped, although somewhat coarsely, throughout the ocean. This work has pointed to internal-tide generation in the deep ocean as the once missing sink of tidal energy, and has led to a plethora of new observational and theoretical studies of internal tides, and their role in vertical mixing of the deep ocean. The discovery that internal tides, or some part of them, can be directly mapped with an altimeter opens new lines of research on this topic. Low-mode internal tides have been found, at least in some regions, to propagate several thousand kilometers across open ocean. The study of such waves with altimetry gives us a global view heretofore unattainable, allowing strong observational constraints to be placed on possilbe ocean mixing processes, such as subharmonic instabilities.

 

Workshop presentation

 

                 Last modified: 07.10.03