Environmental Fluid Mechanics

, Volume 18, Issue 1, pp 149–171 | Cite as

Material dispersion by oceanic internal waves

  • Peng Wang
  • Tamay M. Özgökmen
  • Angelique C. Haza
Original Article


Internal gravity waves that are generated in the open ocean have a universal frequency spectrum, called Garrett–Munk spectrum. By initializing internal waves that satisfy the Garrett–Munk spectrum in a non-hydrostatic numerical model, we investigate the material dispersion produced by these internal waves. Three numerical experiments are designed: Exp.-1 uses a linearly stratified fluid, Exp.-2 has an upper mixed layer, and Exp.-3 incorporates a circular front into the upper mixed layer. Resorting to neutrally buoyant particles, we investigate the dispersion in terms of metrics of the relative dispersion and finite-scale Lyapunov exponent (FSLE). Exp.-1 shows that the dispersion regime produced by these internal waves is between ballistic and diffusive based on relative dispersion, and is however ballistic according to FSLE. The maximum FSLE at scales of 100 m is about 5 day\(^{-1}\), which is comparable to that calculated using ocean drifters. Exp.-2 demonstrates that internal waves can generate flows and material dispersion in an upper mixed layer. However, when mixed layer eddies are present, as in Exp.-3, the dispersion in the mixed layer is controlled by the eddies. In addition, we show that inertial oscillations do not affect the relative dispersion, but impact FSLE at scales of inertial oscillations.


Relative dispersion Finite-scale Lyapunov exponent (FSLE) Garrett–Munk spectrum Inertial oscillation 



We are grateful for the support from the Office of Naval Research (Grant N000141110087) and the BP/The Gulf of Mexico Research Initiative. Also, we thank Dr. Alex Fabregat for helping to process the data input to model, and thank the reviewers for helping to improve our manuscript.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2016

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric ScienceUniversity of MiamiMiamiUSA

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