The physical mechanisms that remove energy from the Southern Ocean’s vigorous mesoscale eddy field are not well understood. One proposed mechanism is direct energy transfer to the internal wave field in the ocean interior, via eddy-induced straining and shearing of preexisting internal waves. The magnitude, vertical structure, and temporal variability of the rate of energy transfer between eddies and internal waves is quantified from a 14-month deployment of a mooring cluster in the Scotia Sea. Velocity and buoyancy observations are decomposed into wave and eddy components, and the energy transfer is estimated using the Reynolds-averaged energy equation. We find that eddies gain energy from the internal wave field at a rate of −2.2 ± 0.6 mW m−2, integrated from the bottom to 566 m below the surface. This result can be decomposed into a positive (eddy to wave) component, equal to 0.2 ± 0.1 mW m−2, driven by horizontal straining of internal waves, and a negative (wave to eddy) component, equal to −2.5 ± 0.6 mW m−2, driven by vertical shearing of the wave spectrum. Temporal variability of the transfer rate is much greater than the mean value. Close to topography, large energy transfers are associated with low-frequency buoyancy fluxes, the underpinning physics of which do not conform to linear wave dynamics and are thereby in need of further research. Our work suggests that eddy–internal wave interactions may play a significant role in the energy balance of the Southern Ocean mesoscale eddy and internal wave fields.
Observed eddy-internal wave interactions in the Southern Ocean