Complexity of Mesoscale Eddy Diffusivity in the Ocean

Igor Kamenkovich, Pavel Berloff, Michael Haigh, Luolin Sun, Yueyang Lu

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

8 Scopus citations


Stirring of water by mesoscale currents (“eddies”) leads to large-scale transport of many important oceanic properties (“tracers”). These eddy-induced transports can be related to the large-scale tracer gradients, using the concept of turbulent diffusion. The concept is widely used to describe these transports in the real ocean and to represent them in climate models. This study focuses on the inherent complexity of the corresponding coefficient tensor (“K-tensor”) and its components, defined here in all its spatio-temporal complexity. Results demonstrate that this comprehensive K-tensor is space-, time-, direction- and tracer-dependent. Using numerical simulations with both idealized and comprehensive models of the Atlantic circulation, we show that these properties lead to upgradient eddy fluxes and the potential importance of all tensor components. The uncovered complexity of the eddy transports calls for reconsideration of how they are estimated in practice, included in the general circulation models and theoretically interpreted.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numbere2020GL091719
JournalGeophysical Research Letters
Issue number5
StatePublished - Mar 16 2021


  • climate and ocean modeling
  • eddy diffusivity
  • mesoscale eddies
  • ocean dynamics
  • tracer transport

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Geophysics
  • Earth and Planetary Sciences(all)


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