The Effects of Spherical Geometry on Baroclinic Instability

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge 02139
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Abstract

A baroclinic stability analysis is performed for a simple family of zonal shear profiles over a sphere, using a two-layer, quasi-geostrophic model. The stability properties and the structure of the most unstable waves are qualitatively similar to those on a β-plane. However, the spherical geometry plays a major role in locating some of the important features of the most unstable waves. In particular, the locations of the maximum wave amplitude, maximum eddy heat fluxes, and maximum convergence of the eddy angular momentum flux are all well correlated with the location of the maximum excess of the vertical shear over the minimum value necessary for local instability on a sphere. Consequently the eddy momentum flux tends to generate a mid-latitude jet even if there is no preexisting mid-latitude jet in the basic state zonal flow. These findings suggest some of the elements needed for parameterizing the meridional variations of baroclinic eddy fluxes accurately.

Abstract

A baroclinic stability analysis is performed for a simple family of zonal shear profiles over a sphere, using a two-layer, quasi-geostrophic model. The stability properties and the structure of the most unstable waves are qualitatively similar to those on a β-plane. However, the spherical geometry plays a major role in locating some of the important features of the most unstable waves. In particular, the locations of the maximum wave amplitude, maximum eddy heat fluxes, and maximum convergence of the eddy angular momentum flux are all well correlated with the location of the maximum excess of the vertical shear over the minimum value necessary for local instability on a sphere. Consequently the eddy momentum flux tends to generate a mid-latitude jet even if there is no preexisting mid-latitude jet in the basic state zonal flow. These findings suggest some of the elements needed for parameterizing the meridional variations of baroclinic eddy fluxes accurately.

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