Oak Ridge Study Explores the Effect of Turbulence on Ocean Heating

Techniques could one day lead to better climate modeling

A recent study on the Oak Ridge National Laboratory’s Summit supercomputer revealed new details in how fluids of differing temperatures interact. The techniques developed through this research could lead to better modeling of climate change and other atmospheric phenomena. The study modeled the dynamics of a 10-meter cube of ocean and studied the way heat dispersed through turbulence.

According to study co-author and University of Cambridge postdoc Miles Couchman, “We’ve never been able to do this type of analysis before, partly because we couldn’t get samples at the necessary size. “We needed a machine like Summit that could allow us to observe these details across the vast range of relevant scales.”

Turbulence is notoriously difficult to model, and the finer the scale, the better your view. Co-author and University of Amherst professor Steve de Bruyn Kops adds, “A basic assumption of turbulence theory has been the cold cream and the hot coffee should mix at the same rate, as you stir and the coffee goes from black to brown. But we’re finding from these simulations that’s not the case. The heat’s mixing at a slower rate than the momentum from the turbulence. That’s a whole new avenue to explore.”

For more information, see the news release at the ORNL website.