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The concept of age in marine modelling: I

Author(s): Deleersnijder E, Campin JM, Delhez E


The age of a particle of a seawater constituent is defined to be the time elapsed since the particle under consideration left the region, in which its age is prescribed to be zero. An Eulerian theory of the age is presented, in which advection, diffusion, production and destruction phenomena are properly accounted for. The key hypothesis is that the mean age of a set of particles is to be evaluated as the mass-weighted average of the ages of the particles under study. The basic variable is the concentration distribution function, representing, at a given time and location, the distribution over the age of the concentration of the constituent being considered. This function satisfies a partial differential equation, which, upon appropriate integration over the age, yields the equations, in flux form, governing the evolution of the concentration and the age concentration. The ratio of the latter variable to the former is the mean age. Further theoretical developments are presented, including a thought experiment showing that mixing processes cause the ages of various constituents to be different from each other.

The potential of the age as a tool for understanding complex marine flows is briefly demonstrated by analysing the results of two numerical models. The ages of a passive tracer, a radioactive tracer and the water are computed, along with a suitably defined radio-age. First, the fate of tracers released into the English Channel at La Hague is simulated. Then, ages are computed in the World Ocean as a measure of the time that has elapsed since leaving the surface layers. A theorem is demonstrated, which specifies that the age of the radioactive tracer must be smaller than the relevant radio-age, the latter being smaller than the age of the passive tracer, which, under appropriate hypotheses, can be seen to be equivalent to the age of the water. These inequalities seem to be remarkably robust, since they are found to hold valid in most of the numerical and analytical results examined in the present study. On the other hand, a dimensionless number is highlighted, which is believed to play an important role in the scaling of the differences between ages.

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