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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

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.

A parameterization of local and remote tidal mixing

de Lavergne, C., and 9 others including C.B. Whalen, "A parameterization of local and remote tidal mixing," J. Adv. Model. Earth Syst., 12, e2020MS002065, doi:10.1029/2020MS002065, 2020.

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1 May 2020

Vertical mixing is often regarded as the Achilles' heel of ocean models. In particular, few models include a comprehensive and energy‐constrained parameterization of mixing by internal ocean tides. Here, we present an energy‐conserving mixing scheme which accounts for the local breaking of high‐mode internal tides and the distant dissipation of low‐mode internal tides. The scheme relies on four static two‐dimensional maps of internal tide dissipation, constructed using mode‐by‐mode Lagrangian tracking of energy beams from sources to sinks. Each map is associated with a distinct dissipative process and a corresponding vertical structure. Applied to an observational climatology of stratification, the scheme produces a global three‐dimensional map of dissipation which compares well with available microstructure observations and with upper‐ocean finestructure mixing estimates. This relative agreement, both in magnitude and spatial structure across ocean basins, suggests that internal tides underpin most of observed dissipation in the ocean interior at the global scale. The proposed parameterization is therefore expected to improve understanding, mapping, and modeling of ocean mixing.

Large-scale impacts of the mesoscale environment on mixing from wind-driven internal waves

Whalen, C.B., J.A. MacKinnon, and L.D. Talley, "Large-scale impacts of the mesoscale environment on mixing from wind-driven internal waves," Nat. Geosci., 11, 842-847, doi:10.1038/s41561-018-0213-6, 2018.

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17 Sep 2018

Oceanic mesoscale structures such as eddies and fronts can alter the propagation, breaking and subsequent turbulent mixing of wind-generated internal waves. However, it has been difficult to ascertain whether these processes affect the global-scale patterns, timing and magnitude of turbulent mixing, thereby powering the global oceanic overturning circulation and driving the transport of heat and dissolved gases. Here we present global evidence demonstrating that mesoscale features can significantly enhance turbulent mixing due to wind-generated internal waves. Using internal wave-driven mixing estimates calculated from Argo profiling floats between 30° and 45°N, we find that both the amplitude of the seasonal cycle of turbulent mixing and the response to increases in the wind energy flux are larger to a depth of at least 2,000 m in the presence of a strong and temporally uniform field of mesoscale eddy kinetic energy. Mixing is especially strong within energetic anticyclonic mesoscale features compared to cyclonic features, indicating that local modification of wind-driven internal waves is probably one mechanism contributing to the elevated mixing observed in energetic mesoscale environments.

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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