We provide a first-principles analysis of the energy fluxes in the oceanic internal wave field. The resulting formula is remarkably similar to the renowned phenomenological formula for the turbulent dissipation rate in the ocean, which is known as the finescale parameterization. The prediction is based on the wave turbulence theory of internal gravity waves and on a new methodology devised for the computation of the associated energy fluxes. In the standard spectral representation of the wave energy density, in the two-dimensional vertical wavenumber–frequency (
The global circulation models cannot resolve the scales of the oceanic internal waves. The finescale parameterization of turbulent dissipation, a formula grounded in observations, is the standard tool by which the energy transfers due to internal waves are incorporated in the global models. Here, we provide an interpretation of this parameterization formula building on the first-principles statistical theory describing energy transfers between waves at different scales. Our result is in agreement with the finescale parameterization and points out a large contribution to the energy fluxes due to a type of wave interactions (local) usually disregarded. Moreover, the theory on which the traditional understanding of the parameterization is mainly built, a “diffusion approximation,” is known to be partly in contradiction with observations. We put forward a solution to this problem, visualized by means of “streamlines” that improve the intuition of the direction of the energy cascade.