Internal Tide Dissipation at Topography: Triadic Resonant Instability Equatorward and Evanescent Waves Poleward of the Critical Latitude
Several studies have shown the existence of a critical latitude where the dissipation of internal tides is strongly enhanced. Internal tides are internal waves generated by barotropic tidal currents impinging rough topography at the seafloor. Their dissipation and concomitant diapycnal mixing are believed to be important for water masses and the large-scale ocean circulation. The purpose of this study is to clarify the physical processes at the origin of this strong latitudinal dependence of tidal energy dissipation. We find that different mechanisms are involved equatorward and poleward of the critical latitude. Triadic resonant instabilities are responsible for the dissipation of internal tides equatorward of the critical latitude. In particular, a dominant triad involving the primary internal tide and near-inertial waves is key. At the critical latitude, the peak of energy dissipation is explained by both increased instability growth rates, and smaller scales of secondary waves thus more prone to break and dissipate their energy. Surprisingly, poleward of the critical latitude, the generation of evanescent waves appears to be crucial. Triadic instabilities have been widely studied, but the transfer of energy to evanescent waves has received comparatively little attention. Our work suggests that the nonlinear transfer of energy from the internal tide to evanescent waves (corresponding to the 2f-pump mechanism described by Young et al., 2008, https://doi.org/10.1017/S0022112008001742) is an efficient mechanism to dissipate internal tide energy near and poleward of the critical latitude. The theoretical results are confirmed in idealized high-resolution numerical simulations of a barotropic M2 tide impinging sinusoidal topography in a linearly stratified fluid.