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Instability of 2D Flows to Hydrostatic 3D Perturbations

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  • 1 Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, Montreal, Quebec, Canada
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Abstract

Considered here is the evolution of three-dimensional perturbations to the hydrostatic equations linearized about a two-dimensional base state U. Motivated by an argument by T. Warn, this study begins with the nonrotating, unstratified case, and draws analogies between the perturbation equations and equations describing evolution of material line elements and scalar gradients embedded in the same 2D flow. When U is chaotic, both scalar gradients and line elements are characterized by rapid growth, and this leads one to suspect that the perturbations behave similarly. A generalized Okubo–Weiss parameter is proposed, and it is argued that this gives a reasonable litmus test for identifying regions where growth is most probable. Rotation modifies the generalized Okubo–Weiss parameter and tends to curb growth of the perturbation fields, as expected. It is also pointed out that, in realistic geophysical settings, the stability parameter can be suggestive of growth locally, even when a globally defined Rossby number is small.

Also considered is the effect of a constant stratification. The perturbation equations can then be separated into vertical modes that have simple sinusoidal structures. The equations describing the evolution of a given mode take a form analogous to the shallow water equations, linearized about U. Numerical simulations of these, assuming a simple but chaotic prescription of U, are carried out. For sufficiently strong stratification, a balance dynamics similar to that suggested by Riley, Metcalfe, and Weissman is recovered. For a given value of the buoyancy frequency N, however, this balance breaks down at high vertical wavenumbers. For high vertical wavenumbers, the modified Okubo–Weiss parameter once again appears to give a potentially useful indication of when growth should be expected. When the Rossby number is small, this criterion predicts stability, and growth occurs only when stratification effects are comparable to or larger than rotational effects. More specifically, growth is seen when the relevant Rossby radius is comparable to or larger than the characteristic length scale of U. It is also found in this limit that approximate geostrophic adjustment occurs prior to growth.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David N. Straub, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Q., Montreal, QC H3A 2K6, Canada. Email: david@gumbo.meteo.mcgill.ca

Abstract

Considered here is the evolution of three-dimensional perturbations to the hydrostatic equations linearized about a two-dimensional base state U. Motivated by an argument by T. Warn, this study begins with the nonrotating, unstratified case, and draws analogies between the perturbation equations and equations describing evolution of material line elements and scalar gradients embedded in the same 2D flow. When U is chaotic, both scalar gradients and line elements are characterized by rapid growth, and this leads one to suspect that the perturbations behave similarly. A generalized Okubo–Weiss parameter is proposed, and it is argued that this gives a reasonable litmus test for identifying regions where growth is most probable. Rotation modifies the generalized Okubo–Weiss parameter and tends to curb growth of the perturbation fields, as expected. It is also pointed out that, in realistic geophysical settings, the stability parameter can be suggestive of growth locally, even when a globally defined Rossby number is small.

Also considered is the effect of a constant stratification. The perturbation equations can then be separated into vertical modes that have simple sinusoidal structures. The equations describing the evolution of a given mode take a form analogous to the shallow water equations, linearized about U. Numerical simulations of these, assuming a simple but chaotic prescription of U, are carried out. For sufficiently strong stratification, a balance dynamics similar to that suggested by Riley, Metcalfe, and Weissman is recovered. For a given value of the buoyancy frequency N, however, this balance breaks down at high vertical wavenumbers. For high vertical wavenumbers, the modified Okubo–Weiss parameter once again appears to give a potentially useful indication of when growth should be expected. When the Rossby number is small, this criterion predicts stability, and growth occurs only when stratification effects are comparable to or larger than rotational effects. More specifically, growth is seen when the relevant Rossby radius is comparable to or larger than the characteristic length scale of U. It is also found in this limit that approximate geostrophic adjustment occurs prior to growth.

Corresponding author address: Dr. David N. Straub, Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, McGill University, 805 Sherbrooke Q., Montreal, QC H3A 2K6, Canada. Email: david@gumbo.meteo.mcgill.ca

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