Zooming in on the Ocean by Researching the Submesoscale Process

Hannah Hull
March, 2022

Dr. Xu Chen has been using RCC resources since he was a graduate student in 2011. Now, he continues his usage as a Research Associate at Florida A&M University and Florida State University in the Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies (COAPS). Chen and his associates use numerical models to resolve the oceanic submesoscale process. This process features an intermediate lateral length scale between 100 m and 10 km and plays an important role in the ocean. It can break down the geostrophic balance and lead to secondary ageostrophic circulation to provide an alternative dissipation route. In submesoscale, the magnitude of SST gradient and surface current shear are much greater than that in the mesoscale and large scales. Resolving these submesoscale structures requires very high-resolution. And determining how these submesoscale processes interact with the atmosphere is an important question Chen is investigating. 

Understanding the ocean’s energy cascade can be a challenge. We know that wind is constantly injecting energy into the ocean, yet we are unsure how the ocean dissipates the energy.  Another crucial focus of the research into the submesoscale is to answer how energy cascades from a large scale to a small scale in the ocean. Through this research, Chen also hopes to find the answer to how energy cascades within the ocean on various scales. 

Understanding the ocean submesoscale process requires it to be simulated first, and that is where the RCC steps in. “Because the submesoscale requires really high resolution to resolve, we need to use a lot of computation. The RCC is [the support] that I can approach and is very helpful” states Chen. 

For more information on Dr. Chen’s research, visit his website: https://www.coaps.fsu.edu/xu-chen