Project Information
Studies of Turbulence and Mixing in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current, a Continuation of DIMES
Start Date:
End Date:
Intellectual Merit: The Diapycnal and Isopycnal Mixing Experiment in the Southern Ocean (DIMES) is a study of ocean mixing in the Antarctic Circumpolar Current (ACC) which runs west to east all around the continent of Antarctica, south of the other continents. This current system is somewhat of a barrier to transport of heat, carbon dioxide and other important ocean constituents between the far south and the rest of the ocean, and mixing processes play an important role in those transports. DIMES is a multi-investigator cooperative project, led by physical oceanographers in the U.S. and in the U.K. A passive tracer and an array of sub-surface floats were deployed early in 2009 more than 2000 km west of Drake Passage on a surface of constant density about 1500 m deep between the Sub Antarctic Front and the Polar Front of the ACC. In early 2010 a U.S. led research cruise sampled the tracer, turbulence levels, and the velocity and density profiles that govern the generation of that turbulence, and additional U.K. led research cruises in 2011 and 2012 continue this sampling as the tracer has made its way through Drake Passage, into the Scotia Sea, and over the North Scotia Ridge, a track of more than 3000 km. The initial results show that diapycnal, i.e., vertical, mixing west of Drake Passage where the bottom is relatively smooth is no larger than in most other regions of the open ocean. In contrast, there are strong velocity shears and intense turbulence levels over the rough topography in Drake Passage and diapycnal diffusivity of the tracer more than 10 times larger in Drake Passage and to the east than west of Drake Passage.

The DIMES field program continues with the U.S. team collecting new velocity and turbulence data in the Scotia Sea. It is anticipated that the tracer will continue passing through the Scotia Sea until at least early 2014. The U.K. partners have scheduled sampling of the tracer on cruises at the North Scotia Ridge and in the eastern and central Scotia Sea in early 2013 and early 2014. The current project will continue the time series of the tracer at Drake Passage on two more U.S. led cruises, in late 2012 and late 2013. Trajectories through the Scotia Sea estimated from the tracer observations, from neutrally buoyant floats, and from numerical models will be used to accurately estimate mixing rates of the tracer and to locate where the mixing is concentrated. During the 2013 cruise the velocity and turbulence fields along high-resolution transects along the ACC and across the ridges of Drake Passage will be measured to see how far downstream of the ridges the mixing is enhanced, and to test the hypothesis that mixing is enhanced by breaking lee waves generated by flow over the rough topography.

Broader Impacts: DIMES (see web site at involves many graduate students and post-doctoral researchers. Two graduate students, who would become expert in ocean turbulence and the processes generating it, will continue be trained on this project. The work in DIMES is ultimately motivated by the need to understand the overturning circulation of the global ocean. This circulation governs the transport and storage of heat and carbon dioxide within the huge oceanic reservoir, and thus plays a major role in regulating the earth?s climate. Understanding the circulation and how it changes in reaction to external forces is necessary to the understanding of past climate change and of how climate might change in the future, and is therefore of great importance to human well-being. The data collected and analyzed by the DIMES project will be assembled and made publicly available at the end of the project.

The DIMES project is a process experiment sponsored by the U.S. CLIVAR (Climate variability and predictability) program.
Person Role
Ledwell, James Investigator
Unknown Program Award # 1232962
Deployment Type
NBP1310A ship expedition
Data Management Plan
None in the Database
Product Level:
Not provided
Repository Title (link) Format(s) Status
R2R Expedition data of NBP1310A None exists
  1. Thurnherr, A. M., Goszczko, I., & Bahr, F. (2017). Improving LADCP Velocity with External Heading, Pitch, and Roll. Journal of Atmospheric and Oceanic Technology, 34(8), 1713–1721. (doi:10.1175/jtech-d-16-0258.1)
  2. Thurnherr, A. M., Kunze, E., Toole, J. M., St. Laurent, L., Richards, K. J., & Ruiz‐Angulo, A. (2015). Vertical kinetic energy and turbulent dissipation in the ocean. Geophysical Research Letters, 42(18), 7639–7647. (doi:10.1002/2015gl065043)
  3. Mackay, N., Ledwell, J. R., Messias, M., Naveira Garabato, A. C., Brearley, J. A., Meijers, A. J. S., … Watson, A. J. (2018). Diapycnal Mixing in the Southern Ocean Diagnosed Using the DIMES Tracer and Realistic Velocity Fields. Journal of Geophysical Research: Oceans, 123(4), 2615–2634. (doi:10.1002/2017jc013536)
  4. Ledwell, J. R. (2018). Comment on “Abyssal Upwelling and Downwelling Driven by Near-Boundary Mixing.” Journal of Physical Oceanography, 48(3), 739–748. (doi:10.1175/jpo-d-17-0089.1)

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