The concept of a slowest invariant manifold is investigated for the five-component model of Lorenz under conservative dynamics. It is shown that Lorenz's model is a two-degree-of-freedom canonical Hamiltonian system, consisting of a nonlinear vorticity-triad oscillator coupled to a linear gravity wave oscillator, whose solutions consist of regular and chaotic orbits. When either the Rossby number or the rotational Froude number is small, there is a formal separation of timescales, and one can speak of fast and slow motion. In the same regime, the coupling is weak, and the Kolmogorov–Arnold-Moser theorem is shown to apply. The chaotic orbits are inherently unbalanced and are confined to regions sandwiched between invariant tori consisting of quasi-periodic regular orbits. The regular orbits generally contain free fast motion, but a slowest invariant manifold may be geometrically defined as the set of all slow cores of invariant tori (defined by zero fast action) that are smoothly related to such cores in the uncoupled system. This slowest invariant manifold is not global; in fact, its structure is fractal; but it is of nearly full measure in the limit of weak coupling. It is also nonlinearly stable. As the coupling increases, the slowest invariant manifold shrinks until it disappears altogether.
The results clarify previous definitions of a slowest invariant manifold and highlight the ambiguity in the definition of “slowness.” An asymptotic procedure, analogous to standard initialization techniques, is found to yield nonzero free fast motion even when the core solutions contain none. A hierarchy of Hamiltonian balanced models preserving the symmetries in the original low-order model is formulated; these models are compared with classic balanced models, asymptotically initialized solutions of the full system and the slowest invariant manifold defined by the core solutions. The analysis suggests that for sufficiently small Rossby or rotational Froude numbers, a stable slowest invariant manifold can be defined for this system, which has zero free gravity wave activity, but it cannot be defined everywhere. The implications of the results for more complex systems are discussed.