A new look at Lagrangian particle dispersion in contour-based coordinates

Yu-Kun Qian and Shiqiu Peng, South China Sea Institute of Oceanology,Chinese Academy of Sciences, State Key Laboratory of Tropical Oceanography, Guangzhou, China
The present study reconciles theoretical differences between the Lagrangian diffusivity and effective diffusivity in a transformed spatial coordinate based on the contours of a quasi-conservative tracer. In the transformed coordinate, any adiabatic stirring effect, such as shear-induced dispersion, is naturally isolated from diabatic cross-contour motions. Therefore, Lagrangian particle motions in the transformed coordinate obey a transformed zeroth-order stochastic (i.e., random-walk) model with the diffusivity replaced by the effective diffusivity. Such a stochastic model becomes the theoretical foundation on which both diffusivities are exactly unified. In the absence of small-scale diffusion, particles do not disperse at all in the transformed contour-coordinate. Besides, the corresponding Lagrangian autocorrelation becomes a delta function and is thus free from pronounced overshoot and negative lobe at short time lags that may be induced by either Rossby waves or mesoscale eddies; that is, particles decorrelates immediately and Lagrangian diffusivity is already asymptotic no matter how small the time lag is. The resulting instantaneous Lagrangian spreading rate is thus conceptually identical to the effective diffusivity that only measures the instantaneous irreversible mixing. In these regards, the present study provides a new look at particle dispersion in contour-based coordinates.