The cascade of tidal energy from low to high modes on a continental slope

Samuel M. Kelly, Jonathan D. Nash, Kim I. Martini, Matthew H. Alford, Eric Kunze

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

60 Scopus citations


The linear transfer of tidal energy from large to small scales is quantified for small tidal excursion over a near-critical continental slope. A theoretical framework for low-wavenumber energy transfer is derived from "flat bottom"vertical modes and evaluated with observations from the Oregon continental slope. To better understand the observations, local tidal dynamics are modeled with a superposition of two idealized numerical simulations, one forced by local surface-tide velocities and the other by an obliquely incident internal tide generated at the Mendocino Escarpment 315 km southwest of the study site. The simulations reproduce many aspects of the observed internal tide and verify the modal-energy balances. Observed transfer of tidal energy into high-mode internal tides is quantitatively consistent with observed turbulent kinetic energy (TKE) dissipation. Locally generated and incident simulated internal tides are superposed with varying phase shifts to mimic the effects of the temporally varying mesoscale. Altering the phase of the incident internal tide alters (i) internal-tide energy flux, (ii) internal-tide generation, and (iii) energy conversion to high modes, suggesting that tidally driven TKE dissipation may vary between 0 and 500 watts per meter of coastline on 3-5-day time scales. Comparison of observed in situ internal-tide generation and satellite-derived estimates of surface-tide energy loss is inconclusive.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1217-1232
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number7
StatePublished - Jul 2012


  • Continental shelf/slope
  • Diapycnal mixing
  • Internal waves
  • Tides
  • Topographic effects


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