Free Content Limits on growing, finite-length salt fingers: A Richardson number constraint

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A model for fastest-growing fingers is developed in which the fingers have finite length and lengthen in time. A finger Richardson number constraint is used to limit the length and fluxes of the fingers. This constraint is equivalent to the collective instability criterion. It is able to reproduce the traditional ΔS4/3 flux law and the laboratory-measured dependence on density ratio, but only if the interface is thin enough (∼30 cm) that individual fingers extend through it. For the 2–5 m thick interfaces that seem to be typical of ocean thermohaline staircases, the model's fluxes depend on interface thickness (unlike the ΔS4/3 flux law) and are over an order of magnitude smaller than ΔS4/3 flux law predictions. This may explain why dissipation rates measured in the thermohaline staircase east of Barbados are thirty times smaller (∼3 × 10−10 W/kg) than ΔS4/3 law predictions (∼80 × 10−10 W/kg).

Document Type: Research Article


Publication date: August 1, 1987

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  • The Journal of Marine Research publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. In the area of biology, studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. Authors benefit from thorough reviews of their manuscripts, where an attempt is made to maximize clarity. The time between submission and publication is kept to a minimum; there is no page charge.
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