The Impact of Wind Gusts on the Ocean Thermal Skin Layer

Christopher J Zappa1, Nathan Laxague1, Sophia E Brumer2 and Steven Anderson3, (1)Columbia University, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory, Palisades, NY, United States, (2)IFREMER-CNRS-IRD-UBO, Laboratoire d'Océanographie Physique et Spatiale, Plouzané, France, (3)Arete Associates, Arlington, VA, United States
The thermodynamic and emissive properties of the ocean thermal skin layer are crucial contributors to air-sea heat flux. In order to properly observe ocean surface temperature without disturbing any delicate fluid mechanical processes, thermal infrared imaging is often used. However, wind impacting the ocean surface complicates the extraction of meaningful information from thermal imagery; this is especially true for transient forcing phenomena such as wind gusts. Here, we describe wind gust-water surface interaction through its impact on skin layer thermal and emissive properties. Two key physical processes are identified: (1) the growth of centimeter-scale wind waves, which increases interfacial emissivity and (2) microscale wave breaking and shear, which mix the cool skin layer with warmer millimeter-depth water and increase the skin temperature. As more observations are made of air-sea interaction under transient forcing, the full consideration of these processes becomes increasingly important.