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Continental ShelfResearch, Vol. 16, No. 2, 147-161,1996 pp.

Copyright 0 1995 Elsevier Science Ltd
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0278-4343/96 $9.50+0.00
Calculating the annual cycle of the vertical eddy viscosity in the
North Sea with a three-dimensional haroclinic shelf sea
circulation model
(Received 30 April 1993; in revised form 20 October 1993; accepted 17 March 1994)
Abstract-The vertical eddy viscosity (A,) is estimated using a three-dimensional baroclinic shelf
sea model that treats the temperature as a prognostic quantity. A, is calculated by means of a
turbulent closure approach proposed by Kochergin [(1987) Three-dimensional coastal ocean
models, American Geophysical Union, pp. 201-2081 which is closely related to a Mellor and
Yamada [(1974) J ournal of Atmospheric Science, 31, pp. 1791-18061 level-2-model that has been
used very successfully in a large number of applications.
The annual cycle of the vertical eddy viscosity is discussed by looking at horizontal and vertical
A,,-distributions for the year 1988. These examples show that the vertical eddy viscosity is subject to
a pronounced annual cycle which can be related to heating and cooling processes as well as to
mixing induced by wind and bottom friction. A comparison of these results with A, -distributions
calculated for the year 1987 additionally demonstrates a strong inter-annual variability.
The vertical eddy viscosity (A,) in the North Sea has been investigated for the first time by
Kraav (1969). He used a two-dimensional barotropic storm surge model in combination
with a one-equation turbulent closure scheme. Due to this configuration only vertically
averaged results could be obtained. They show a close relationship between A, and the
maximum tidal current velocities. Thus, in the central and northeastern parts of the North
Sea A, is smaller than 10 cm2 s-l, while along the British coast and in the Southern Bight
values exceed 500 cm2 s-l . Here maximum A.-rates of more than 900 cm2 s-* are reached.
Later the employment of three-dimensional models made it necessary to determine
realistic space- and time-dependent vertical eddy viscosities rates. This is of great
importance in many respects because A, influences not only the structure of the current
profiles but also the calculated tidal elevations significantly (Davies, 1991). Moreover it
has been shown that the vertical eddy viscosity and diffusivity play a decisive role in the
complex system of physical and biological processes, investigated in ecological models (see
e.g. Radach and Mall, 1993).
* Zentrum fir Meeres- und Klimaforschung der Universitlt Hamburg, TroplowitzstraBe 7, D-22529 Hamburg,
148 T. Pohlmann
Until recently simple empirical relations between the vertical eddy viscosity and the how
field were applied. These were supported by various measurements (e.g. Munk and
Anderson, 1948; Bowden and Hamilton, 1975; Henderson-Sellers 1982). Being used in a
wide range of different three-dimensional model applications (barotropic/baroclinic,
steady-state/time dependent) these empirical approaches led to a number of very satisfac-
tory results. For further details also concerning the model validation see for example:
Davies and Furnes, 1980; Davies, 1986; Backhaus and Hainbucher, 1987; Hainbucher et
al., 1987 or Backhaus, 1990.
Nevertheless, these empirical approaches cannot be expected to be applicable in general
for all the hydrographic conditions and for all types of shelf sea models. Therefore it was
desirable to develop approaches which are based on more theoretical assumptions. In
particular the turbulent kinetic energy concept has been used very successfully to describe
turbulent processes in meteorology (e.g. Mellor and Yamada, 1974) and in oceanography
(e.g. Mellor and Durbin, 1975; Blumberg and Mellor, 1987).
For the northwestern European continental shelf this concept was applied for the first
time by Davies and Jones (1990). Comparing the results calculated with the eddy viscosity
and with the turbulent energy concept they concluded that differences are relatively small
compared to other uncertainties. Nevertheless they only carried out purely barotropic
simulations and it can be expected that for baroclinic simulations the empirical eddy
viscosity approaches are no longer suitable--especially because it is known that under
stratified conditions buoyancy can play a decisive role with respect to turbulent processes.
In the present paper a turbulent energy approach proposed by Kochergin (1987) is
incorporated into a baroclinic circulation model treating temperature and salinity as
prognostic quantities. Using this model configuration to simulate actual periods of the
order of a few years is a significant step towards a more realistic description of shelf sea
processes. In particular the newly introduced prognostic treatment of temperature allows
to resolve processes connected with the existence of the summerly thermocline; one of the
most pronounced summerly phenomena in the central and northern North Sea.
It has to be mentioned that the aim of this study, to simulate the hydrographic situation
of the North Sea as realistically as possible, is to some degree contradictory to the demand
to quantify the causes of mixing. Due to the complexity of the system under consideration
here only rough estimates can be presented. On the other hand this investigation provides
a much deeper insight into time- and space-scales of the physical phenomena in the North
Sea than any case study would allow.
At the beginning a brief description of the model equations is presented, which mainly
focuses on the determination of the vertical eddy viscosity. Then some details concerning
the specific model experiment are given. This is followed by a presentation of the annual
variability of the vertical eddy viscosity which, as an example, is demonstrated for the year
1988. Moreover an impression is given of the variability occurring on the adjacent
frequency bands. For this reason the intra-monthly as well as the inter-annual variability
will be investigated.
The model under consideration is a modified version of the shelf sea model developed by
Backhaus (1985). A detailed description of these modifications is given in Pohlmann
(1996). They mainly affect the treatment of the turbulent surface and bottom layers.
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 149
The present paper gives only a brief description of the theory of the model. It focuses on
the determination of the vertical mixing coefficients.
The governing equations are the shallow water equations in combination with the
hydrostatic assumption, the equation of continuity, the transport equations for tempera-
ture and salinity as well as the equation of state for sea water (Fofonoff and Millard, 1983).
The vertical diffusion coefficients for momentum, temperature and salinity are deter-
mined by simplifying the physically based k - e-equations brought into discussion by Rodi
In the equation for the turbulent kinetic energy k a local equilibrium is assumed. Thus
advection and vertical diffusion can be neglected. The same assumptions have been made
by Mellor and Yamada (1974) to obtain their level-2-model, that according to them gives
reasonable results. Therefore the k-equation is simplified to:
where u and v are the velocity components pointing to the East and North, respectively
and p denotes the density. AI , and A,,,, represent the vertical viscosity and diffusivity
coefficient, respectively.
E is the dissipation rate of the turbulent kinetic energy, whereas the s-equation is
replaced by the generally accepted Kolmogorov-Prandtl expression
E = c,~~~/L.
where c, denotes an empirical constant and L represents the characteristic length scale of
the turbulent motion.
With the help of these two equations the following expression for the vertical eddy
viscosity can be deduced (for further details see Appendix):
where SM is the turbulent Schmidt-Prandtl number stating the relation between AI , and
A f&L MV>
the thickness of the mixed layer and cML an empirical constant that has been
calibrated with the help of observational data (Kochergin, 1987).
Originally Kochergin proposed this approach to determine the vertical eddy viscosity
and diffusion coefficients only in the surface mixed layer. Because of the strong influence
of the bottom friction in shallow shelf seas like the North Sea in this study Kochergins
approach is applied also to the bottom mixed layer. In general these two turbulent zones
are divided by a region of laminar conditions. To determine the position of the interface
between the turbulent and the laminar part of the water column the critical Richardson
number is employed. In literature all the given values of this number are varying within a
remarkably narrow interval between 0.21 and 0.25. In the present work a value of 0.22
derived by Mellor and Yamada (1974) is applied. In the turbulent zone A, is chosen
according to equation (3) while in the laminar part of the water column only molecular
diffusion (0.0134 cm2 s-l) is assumed. Knowing the position of the transition zone, it is also
possible to calculate the thickness of both mixed layers hML, that appears in equation (3).
In order to allow for the simulation of unstratified conditions, which occur in summer in
the southern North Sea and in winter in all over the North Sea, an overlapping of the
surface and the bottom mixed layer is permitted.
150 T. Pohlmann
Due to the present lack of computing capacities, it is still necessary to parameterize the
vertical gradients appearing directly at the thermocline. These are calculated by introduc-
ing an artificially decreased vertical grid distance hrh. The value of hTh has been calibrated
by comparing calculated and measured temperature profiles. A more detailed description
of this procedure is given in Pohlmann (1996). Furthermore, the possible vertical spacing
does not allow to simulate small scale boundary effects realistically, which occur in the
near bed bottom boundary layer. For that reason the logarithmic boundary profile cannot
be resolved adequately.
The model explained in the previous section has been applied for the calculation of the
hydrodynamic parameters u, v, w, S, T, p and A, for a period from 1 January 1982 to 31
December 1992. The driving forces of these simulations comprise 3-hourly wind stress and
atmospheric pressure distributions, daily sea surface temperatures; both derived from
analysed ship observations (Luthardt, 1987). At open boundaries salinity and temperature
data as well as the sea surface elevations are prescribed. The former two are obtained from
a climatological monthly mean data set (Damm, 1989). In order to supply the three-
dimensional prognostic baroclinic model (North Sea Model) with adequate sea surface
elevations at the open boundary, another three-dimensional diagnostic baroclinic model
covering the entire northwestern European continental shelf was employed (Shelf Sea
Model). The latter provides all the major far field effects like the M,-tide and external
surges. The horizontal resolution of both models is 12 in meridional and 20 in
longitudinal direction. In the Shelf Sea Model the vertical scale is resolved by 12 layers,
whereas in the North Sea Model a maximum number of 19 layers are existing. For the sake
of an adequate resolution in that part of the water column where the thermocline occurs,
the thickness of the upper 10 layers is only 5 m. The thickness of the lower layers gradually
increases from 10 to 400 m with increasing depth. The time step is 10 min for the Shelf Sea
Model and 20 mins for the North Sea Model, which turned out to be sufficient for a
reasonable resolution of processes induced by the M,-tide.
At the closed lateral boundaries a no-flux and semi-slip condition is applied for
momentum, while for the sea bottom the quadratic stress law is chosen. At the open
boundaries the transport gradients normal to the open boundaries are set to zero, whereas
for temperature a radiation condition is applied. Furthermore, at the sea surface observed
temperature date (SST) are prescribed. This employment of a Dirichlets boundary
condition is justified, because for the North Sea SST-data are available in a reasonable
time-space resolution.
The output of the model consists of data averaged over two tidal cycles (roughly 1 day).
In order to obtain A,-distributions, which are representative for a specific month, monthly
means are calculated from these daily A,-rates. In all figures showing A,-distributions the
1 cm2 s-* contour line is displayed in order to indicate all areas exhibiting only molecular
viscosity during the whole month.
In the following, the annual cycle of the vertical eddy viscosity is described. As an
example the evolution in the year 1988 is presented. Figures 2(a)-5 give the horizontal
distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity for the 15 m level, while
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 151
3 _
W -15 -I -13 -17 .I, -10 -9 -* -7 -6 -5 - -3 -2 -I 0 I 2 3
5 6 7 8 9 IO II
Fig. 1. Domain and topography (m) of the North Sea and Shelf Sea Model, mentioned locations
and position of vertical section.
Figs 6-9(a) show the vertical distribution on a section from the Fair Isle Passage to the
German Bight (cf Fig. 1).
In February 1988 [Fig. 2(a)] the maximum values of more than 275 cm2 s-l are reached
in the off-coastal parts of the North Sea. This is mainly caused by the intensive cooling
taking place in this month. Only the Dogger Bank region forms an exception. Here a
minimum of less than 200 cm SC . 1s attained. Thus in late winter the horizontal A,
distribution more or less reflects the topography. This results from the fact that the mixed
layer depth hML used in equation (3) is chosen to be the total water depth if vertically
homogeneous conditions are present. Therefore in winter the topography has a decisive
influence on the vertical eddy viscosity. The only exceptions in this respect are found in the
Southern Bight and in the Norwegian Trench region. Here the tidally induced mixing and
152 T. Pohlmann
the haline stratification, respectively, are predominating and thus are governing the
vertical eddy viscosity. In April [Fig. 31 the warming has already started which in
connection with decreasing storm activities explains the strong decrease of Au-rates. Only
in the Southern Bight maximum values of 100 cm2 s-i are found. In August [Fig. 4(a)] this
decrease has continued. The entire northern and central North Sea shows A,-rates of less
than 25 cm2 s-l. However, on the other hand in nearly all North Sea regions values are
considerably larger than the molecular viscosity (0.0134 cm2 s-l) indicating that a
remainder of turbulence below the thermocline is still existing even in mid summer. In
October [Fig. 51 the vertical eddy viscosity again increases as a result of the cooling through
the sea surface combined with the intensification of wind stress. Thus maximum rates of
more than 200 cm2 s-l are reached in the central North Sea.
The vertical distribution in February 1988 [Fig. 61 shows a maximum in the shallower
parts where almost vertically homogeneous conditions are present. In the northwestern
North Sea A, decreases nearly linearly from the surface (300 cm2 s-l) to the bottom (150
cm2 s-l). Only in the regions southeast of the Dogger Bank in the last few meters above the
bottom is an increase of A, recognizable. The distribution in April [Fig. 71 shows a strong
change in the A,-distribution indicating the transition between winterly and summerly
conditions. In contrast to the previous months the constant decrease from surface to
bottom no longer persists. Instead, an interior minimum with values lower than 25 cm2 s-i
appears in the Fladen Ground area in the depth interval between 20 and 100 m. Between
50 and 60 m values are even smaller than 1 cm2 s-l indicating that here laminar conditions
are present during the whole month. Maximum A,-rates of more than 75 cm2 s-i occur at
the surface and of more than 100 cm2 s-l at the bottom. In August [Fig. 8(a)] this general
summerly structure in principle remains unchanged. The maximum has decreased at the
sea surface in particular, whereas the smallest surface values of less than 50 cm2 s-l are
found in the central and northern North Sea. Values of less than 1 cm2 s-i, which can be
attributed to predominating non-turbulent conditions now cover a significant part of the
water column. They are found north of the Dogger Bank in the central and northwestern
North Sea in a range between 30 and 70 m. The upper level of this minimum agrees with the
maximum of the vertical temperature gradient [Fig. 8(b)]. This correlation between
vertical eddy viscosity and temperature even is observable in the shallower regions
southeast of the Dogger Bank. In October [Fig. 9(a)] surface values have increased
drastically up to more than 275 cm2 SC. Likewise the extension of the interior minimum
decreases considerably connected with a shift of the minimum towards the bottom.
A -rates of less than 1 cm2 SC are now only reached in the deep Fladen Ground area in a
dlpth range between 50 and 60 m. As in August also in October the upper level of the
laminar zone coincides with the depth of the maximum vertical temperature gradient [Fig.
9(b)]. In contrast to the situation in August in all the shallower regions north of the Dogger
Bank this interior minimum has disappeared. The latter can be explained by the absence of
vertical thermal stratification on the Dogger Bank and southeast of it, indicating that the
presence of a thermocline is a necessary condition for an interior A.-minimum.
To get an impression of the occurring inter-annual variability horizontal distributions
for winter and summer for the year 1987 [Fig. 2(b) and Fig. 4(b)] are compared with those
for the year 1988 [Fig. 2(a) and Fig. 4(a)].
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 153
Fig. 2(a). Horizontal distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity (cm s-l) in 15 m
depth in February 1988. (b). Horizontal distribution of the standard deviation of the monthly mean
vertical eddy viscosity (cm2 s-) in 15 m depth in February 1988. (c). Horizontal distribution of the
monthly mean of the vertical eddy viscosity (cm2 s-) in 15 m depth in February 1987.
Fig. 3. Horizontal distribution of the monthly mean of the vertical eddy viscosity (cni! s- ) in 15
m depth in April 1988.
154 T. Pohlmann
Fig. 4(a). Horizontal distribution of the monthly mean of the vertical eddy viscosity (cm ss ) in
15 m depth in August 1988. (b). Horizontal distribution of the standard deviation of the monthly
mean vertical eddy viscosity (cm2 SC) in 15 m depth in August 1988. (c). Horizontal distribution of
the monthly mean of the vertical eddy viscosity (cm2 s-r) in 15 m depth in August 1987.
Fig. 5. Horizontal distribution of the monthly mean of the vertical eddy viscosity (cn? s- ) in 15
m depth in October 1988.
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 155
SECTleN FRBH t 5929.N. 201 W 16 53 vi N, 7YO.E DISTRNCE IN KH
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 800
Fig. 6. Vertical distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity (cd s-) in February
1988 (location of section: cf Fig. 1).
In February the vertical eddy viscosity shows significant differences for both months
[Fig. 2(b) and Fig. 2(a)]. Only in coastal regions the general structure remains more or less
the same while in all the other North Sea regions marked differences occur. In most central
parts of the North Sea in February 1987 A,-values only reach about 50% of those in 1988.
In contrast to February 1988 no major cooling events have taken place in February 1987.
These results stress the fast and direct reaction of the vertical eddy viscosity on the winterly
cooling. In August this situation has changed drastically. Although the external forcing is
significantly different for both months the general distribution of the vertical eddy viscosity
is almost the same [Fig. 4(b) and Fig. 4(a)]. Only next to the frontal zone, separating
stratified from vertically mixed conditions, differences in A,-rates are noticeable.
Altogether this implies that in summer A, is mainly governed by topographic and tidally
induced effects. Interannual changes in the depth and extension of the thermocline only
result in locally limited variations of the vertical eddy viscosity. Contrarily in winter
variations of the meteorological forcing dominate the inter-annual variability.
In order to demonstrate the intra-monthly variability for two selected months {i.e.
February 1988 [Fig. 2(c)] and August 1988 [Fig. 4(c)]} besides the monthly mean
distribution already presented in the previous section additionally the corresponding
standard deviations are displayed. It has to be noted that due to the use of daily integrated
model output data the intra-monthly variability discussed in the following covers the
frequency spectrum from one day to one month.
Figure 2(c) indicates that in winter a considerable intra-monthly variability is present,
156 T. Pohlmann
SECTleN FRBR t 5929.N. 201 W 16 53 11 N. 7YOE OISTRNCE tN KM
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 100 600
,Cr C ) /ST)
. Y
Fig. 7. Vertical distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity (cm2 s-) in April 1988
(location of section: cf. Fig. 1).
reaching values higher than 100 crn~-~ in most North Sea regions. Obviously, horizontal
gradients of the standard deviation are smaller than those observed for the monthly mean
d$tribution [Fig. 2(a)]. I n most coastal areas standard deviations are smaller than 100 cm2
s . This holds also for the Dogger Bank region, which exhibits a marked minimum
standard deviation of less than 75 cm2 s-l. In most other North Sea regions standard
deviations exceed 150 cm2 s- amounting to about 50% of the monthly mean. Most
strikingly in August [Fig. 4(c)] a maximum of the standard deviation is located on the
Dogger Bank. This is in contrast to the situation in February, when here a minimum
standard deviation is attained. In most other North Sea regions standard deviations vary
within the range between 1 and 50 cm2 s-l, showing roughly the same distribution as the
monthly mean patterns [Fig. 4(a)]. Only the Southern Bight and the eastern part of the
English Channel form an exception. Here, although mean values reach their maximum no
significant increase of the A,-standard deviation is observable. In this region this
phenomenon is also noticeable for February indicating that in this region high A,-rates are
primarily induced by tidal stirring, which is not a subject to pronounced day-to-day
changes and therefore does not cause a strong intra-monthly variability.
The study of the vertical eddy viscosity with the help of a three-dimensional baroclinic
shelf sea model demonstrates that A, is subject to a strong annual cycle. This annual cycle
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 157
0 100 200 300 voo 500 600 700 BOO
I I I , I
50.0 -L
0 100 200 300 1100 500 600 700 600
I 0
Fig. 8(a). Vertical distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity (cn? s-l) in August
1988 (location of section: cf. Fig. 1). (b). Vertical distribution of the monthly mean temperature
(C) in August 1988 (location of section: cf. Fig. 1).
158 T. Pohlmann
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 600
SECTlBN FRBH i 5929.N. 2OlW TB 53llN, 7UOE
0 100 200 300 400 500 600 700 600
I I I I 4
Fig. 9(a). Vertical distribution of the monthly mean vertical eddy viscosity (cd s-) in October
1988 (location of section: cf. Fig. 1). (b). Vertical distribution of the monthly mean temperature
(C) in October 1988 (location of section: cf. Fig. 1).
Vertical eddy viscosity in the North Sea 159
can clearly be related to the annual development of the atmospheric forcing conditions,
i.e. the thermal forcing and the wind stress at the sea surface. Usually the deeper regions of
the North Sea are characterized by an interior minimum of the vertical eddy viscosity.
Towards the surface and the bottom A,-rates increase due to the intensification of vertical
mixing caused by the wind stress and the bottom friction, respectively. Only in late winter,
when the thermocline has totally disappeared and convection reaches down to the bottom
does this general structure change and the vertical eddy viscosity also decreases in deepest
North Sea regions more or less linearly from surface to bottom. In all the shallower parts of
the North Sea this interior minimum is much less pronounced and only persists from early
to mid summer.
Moreover, for the winter months a considerable inter-annual variability of A, is found,
which can mainly be attributed to the thermal forcing. On the other hand in summer the
inter-annual variability is significantly smaller. Hence in the summer season the vertical
eddy viscosity seems to be more dependent on topographic and tidally induced effects.
Inter-annual variations of the thermocline depth and extension are only responsible for a
relatively small inter-annual variability of A,, which is primarily limited to the area of the
frontal zone. A more detailed discussion concerning the development of the thermocline is
presented in Pohlmann (1991).
The other frequency band under consideration in this study comprises all the
A,,-fluctuations from one day to one month, i.e. the intra-monthly variability. Interest-
ingly the latter, here presented with the help of the standard deviation of the monthly
means, shows a general correlation with the monthly mean distributions themselves.
Not only the horizontal structures but also the order of magnitude are comparable for
the winter as for the summer season. This indicates that the high-frequency variability of
the meteorological forcing has a strong impact on the actual A,-distribution and for this
reason cannot be neglected, if a realistic representation of conditions in the North Sea is
As shown above, the vertical eddy viscosity depends on vertical velocity shear and
thermal stratification. On the other hand, the circulation pattern and the temperature
distribution are influenced by vertical mixing. The non-linear interaction of these three
quantities produces a complex hydrodynamic system. For that reason it is difficult to
clearly quantify the impact of each single component on the A,,-distribution actually
present in a specific region and month. But as already pointed out in the introduction, this
disadvantage is compensated by the possibility to obtain for the first time in a comprehen-
sive form realistic space- and time-dependent distributions of the vertical eddy viscosity in
the North Sea.
For the future it is planned to carry out a more detailed statistical analysis, which is
feasible just lately, because the simulation period has recently been extended from 5 years
(1987-1991) to the H-years-period mentioned above. This will allow a more general view
of the climatological means and corresponding inter- and intra-annual variabilities of the
vertical eddy viscosity. Furthermore it will be possible to deduce the coherences between
A, and the respective meteorological forcing fields systematically. Another interesting
aspect that has to be considered in this context is the timescale of the hydrographic
memory of the North Sea as it was brought into discussion by Elliott and Clarke (1991).
Acknowledgements-The author is indebted to J. 0. Backhaus for helpful discussions and comments. The author
would also like to thank his colleagues P. Damm, I. Harms, H. Langenberg, C. Schrum and N. Verch. This
160 T. Pohlmann
research was funded by the German Federal Ministry for Research and Technology [BMFT-MFU 0620/6,
(PRISMA)] and by the Commission of the European Communities [MAST-0050-C, (PROFILE)].
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Derivation of equation (3):
Using the generally accepted empirical relation
A, = c$%,
together with equation (2) it follows that:
AI, = LciI %, with: CL = c,,lc,,
where cfl denotes a further empirical constant.
To substitute the third term on the left-hand side of equation (1) by the expression (5) it is necessary to have a
function F with: A,, = F(A,,). Here a linear relation between A,, and A,,is used:
A,, = --.A,,.
Because the possible range of the Schmidt-Prandtl number 5, is relatively small, in this investigation a simple
algebraic dependency on the Richardson number Ri is assumed, which originally was proposed by Mellor and
Durbin (1975).
Inserting equations (2) and (5) together with (6) and (1) results in
Solving equation (7) with respect to k followed by the employment of (5) yields
It is assumed that the characteristic length scale L is proportional to the thickness of the mixed layer hMur
L = CMLhlUL, (9)
where cML is the proportionality factor
With the definition
cML = cML
thus finally equation (8) can be written as equation (3).