Although continental shelf seas make up a relatively small fraction (ca 7%) of the world ocean's surface, they are thought to contribute significantly (20–50% of the total) to the open-ocean carbon dioxide storage through processes collectively known as the shelf sea pump. The global significance of these processes is determined by the vertical mixing, which drives the net CO2 drawdown (which can occur only in stratified water). In this paper, we focus on identifying the processes that are responsible for mixing across the thermocline in seasonally stratified shelf seas. We present evidence that shear instability and internal wave breaking are largely responsible for thermocline mixing, a clear development from the first-order paradigm for the water column structure in continental shelf seas. The levels of dissipation observed are quantitatively consistent with the observed dissipation rates of the internal tide and near-inertial oscillations. It is perhaps because these processes make such a small contribution to the total energy dissipated in shelf seas that they are not well represented in current state-of-the-art numerical models of continental shelf seas. The results thus present a clear challenge to oceanographic models.
One contribution of 17 to a Triennial Issue ‘Astronomy and earth science’.
- © 2005 The Royal Society