Drivers of thermocline shear in seasonally stratified shelf seas

Electronic versions


  • Jingnan Li

    Research areas

  • Shear, Shelf seas, Diapycnal mixing, Thermocline


Shelf seas occupy only 7% in area and less than 0.5% in volume of the entire ocean, but they play an important role in the carbon cycle by taking about 20% - 50% of all the CO2 absorbed by the ocean. Diapycnal mixing is a key process in transporting nutrients, carbon, water mass etc. between the surface and the lower mixed layers in a seasonally stratified shelf sea. The identification and quantification of the processes responsible for driving diapycnal mixing in seasonally stratified seas are the subjects worth study.
Early researchers have examined the correlation between enhanced bulk shear and the wind. The bulk shear is defined as the average of the shear in two defined layers which are either side of the thermocline. However the contribution from the barotropic tide has generally been neglected.
This study examines two stages of the evolution of water column stratification: the spring development stage and the autumn break down stage. Rotary spectral analysis shows that the shear across thermocline corresponds to different drivers when the water stratification is different. At the spring development stage, the shear across the thermocline corresponds to near-inertial oscillations, which are related to wind. Whilst at the autumn break down stage, the shear across thermocline relates to both the near-inertial oscillations and the barotropic tide. Thus, in contraction to earlier research, our research suggests that the barotropic tide is another dominant driver in the generation of shear.
However not all observations can be explained by the wind or barotropic tide. The additional consideration of the baroclinic tide helps explain the signal of an odd shear spike observed in the northern North Sea, which occurred during a period of weak shear production by the wind and barotropic tide.
A 1D two-layer vertical dynamic numerical model and a 1D turbulence closure numerical model were applied to investigate the impact of wind and barotropic tide on shear, respectively. In addition, the impacts of hydrographic conditions on the driver of shear were considered. Coherence analysis was applied to examine the similarity of constituents (in frequency domain) between the modelled shear production and the observations. The model sensitivity analysis demonstrates that the switch of driver of shear is highly related to the depth ratio, which is the ratio of thermocline depth over water depth.


Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
Thesis sponsors
  • Chinese Scholarship Council
Award date2017