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Caitlin Whalen

Senior Oceanographer

Affiliate Assistant Professor, Oceanography





Research Interests

Small-scale oceanic processes as viewed from global and regional scales including diapycnal mixing, internal waves, submesoscale dynamics, air–sea interactions, and mesoscale–internal wave interactions


B.A. Physics, Reed College, 2008

Ph.D. Physical Oceanography, University of California at San Diego, 2015


2000-present and while at APL-UW

Best practices for comparing ocean turbulence measurements across spatiotemporal scales

Whalen, C.B., "Best practices for comparing ocean turbulence measurements across spatiotemporal scales," J. Atmos. Ocean. Technol., 38, 837-841, doi:10.1175/JTECH-D-20-0175.1, 2021.

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1 Apr 2021

The turbulent energy dissipation rate in the ocean can be measured by using rapidly sampling microstructure shear probes, or by applying a finescale parametrization to coarser resolution density and/or shear profiles. The two techniques require measurements that are on different spatiotemporal scales and generate dissipation rate estimates that also differ in spatiotemporal scale. Since the distribution of the measured energy dissipation rate is closer to lognormal than normal and fluctuates with the strength of the turbulence, averaging the two approaches on equivalent spatiotemporal scales is critical for accurately comparing the two methods. Here, microstructure data from the 1997 Brazil Basin Tracer Release Experiment (BBTRE) is used to demonstrate that comparing averages of the dissipation rate on different spatiotemporal scales can generate spurious discrepancies of up to a factor of O10 in regions of strong turbulence and smaller biases of up to a factor of 2 in the presence of weaker turbulence.

Direct observations of near-inertial wave ζ-refraction in a dipole vortex

Thomas, L.N., L. Rainville, O. Asselin, W.R. Young, J. Girton, C.B. Whalen, L. Centurioni, and V. Hormann, "Direct observations of near-inertial wave ζ-refraction in a dipole vortex," Geophys. Res. Lett., 47, doi:10.1029/2020GL090375, 2020.

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16 Nov 2020

Generated at large horizontal scales by winds, near‐inertial waves (NIWs) are inefficient at radiating energy without a shift to smaller wavelengths. The lateral scales of NIWs can be reduced by gradients in the Coriolis parameter (β‐refraction) or in the vertical vorticity (ζ‐refraction) or by strain. Here we present ship‐based surveys of NIWs in a dipole vortex in the Iceland Basin that show, for the first time, direct evidence of ζ‐refraction. Differences in NIW phase across the dipole were observed to grow in time, generating a lateral wavelength that shrank at a rate consistent with ζ‐refraction, reaching ~40 km in 1.5 days. Two days later, a NIW beam with an ~13 km horizontal and ~200 m vertical wavelength was detected at depth radiating energy downward and toward the dipole's anticyclone. Strain, while significant in strength in the dipole, had little direct effect on the NIWs.

Internal wave-driven mixing: Governing processes and consequences for climate

Whalen, C.B., C. de Lavergne, A.C. Naveira Garabato, J.M. Klymak, J.A. MacKinnon, and K.L. Sheen, "Internal wave-driven mixing: Governing processes and consequences for climate," Nat. Rev. Earth Environ., 1, 606-621, doi:10.1038/s43017-020-0097-z, 2020.

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13 Oct 2020

Turbulent mixing from breaking oceanic internal waves drives a vertical transport of water, heat and other climatically important tracers in the ocean, thereby playing an important role in shaping the circulation and distributions of heat and carbon within the climate system. However, linking internal wave-driven mixing to its impacts on climate poses a formidable challenge, since it requires understanding of the complex life cycle of internal waves — including generation, propagation and breaking into turbulence — and knowledge of the spatio-temporal variability of these processes in the diverse, rapidly evolving oceanic environment. In this Review, we trace the energy pathways from tides, winds and geostrophic currents to internal wave mixing, connecting this mixing with the global climate system. Additionally, we discuss avenues for future work, including understanding energy transfer processes within the internal wave field, how internal waves can be modified by background currents and how internal wave mixing is integrated within the global climate system.

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Acoustics Air-Sea Interaction & Remote Sensing Center for Environmental & Information Systems Center for Industrial & Medical Ultrasound Electronic & Photonic Systems Ocean Engineering Ocean Physics Polar Science Center