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Rossby Wave Breaking, Microbreaking, Filamentation, and Secondary Vortex Formation: The Dynamics of a Perturbed Vortex

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  • 1 Department of Applied Physics, Columbia University, New York, New York
  • | 2 Center for Meteorology and Physical Oceanography, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

The behavior of an isolated vortex perturbed by topographically forced Rossby waves is studied using the method of Contour Dynamics. For a single-contour vortex a distinct forcing threshold exists above which the wave breaks in a dynamically significant way, leading to a disruption of the vortex. This breaking is distinguished from the process of weak filamentary breaking described by Dritschel and classified here as microbreaking; the latter occurs in nondivergent flow even at very small forcing amplitudes but does not affect the vortex in a substantial manner. In cases with finite Rossby deformation radius (comparable with the vortex radius) neither breaking nor microbreaking occurs below the forcing threshold. In common with previous studies using high-resolution spectral models, the vortex is not diluted by intrusion of outside air, except during remerger with a secondary vortex shed previously from the main vortex during a breaking event. The kinematics of the breaking process and of the vortex interior and the morphology of material ejected from the vortex are described. When the Rossby radius is finite there is substantial mixing in the deep interior of the vortex, even when the vortex is only mildly disturbed. Implications for the stratospheric polar vortex are discussed.

Abstract

The behavior of an isolated vortex perturbed by topographically forced Rossby waves is studied using the method of Contour Dynamics. For a single-contour vortex a distinct forcing threshold exists above which the wave breaks in a dynamically significant way, leading to a disruption of the vortex. This breaking is distinguished from the process of weak filamentary breaking described by Dritschel and classified here as microbreaking; the latter occurs in nondivergent flow even at very small forcing amplitudes but does not affect the vortex in a substantial manner. In cases with finite Rossby deformation radius (comparable with the vortex radius) neither breaking nor microbreaking occurs below the forcing threshold. In common with previous studies using high-resolution spectral models, the vortex is not diluted by intrusion of outside air, except during remerger with a secondary vortex shed previously from the main vortex during a breaking event. The kinematics of the breaking process and of the vortex interior and the morphology of material ejected from the vortex are described. When the Rossby radius is finite there is substantial mixing in the deep interior of the vortex, even when the vortex is only mildly disturbed. Implications for the stratospheric polar vortex are discussed.

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