A Generalized Momentum Framework for Looking at Baroclinic Circulations

Pablo Zurita-Gotor UCAR Visiting Scientist Program, GFDL, Princeton, New Jersey

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Richard S. Lindzen Program in Atmospheres, Oceans and Climate, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts

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Abstract

This paper introduces the concept of potential momentum, which is a nonlocal measure of the thermal structure that has momentum units. Physically, it may be interpreted as the zonal momentum that the flow would realize through an adiabatic redistribution of mass that made the isentropic thickness uniform poleward of a reference latitude. At the surface, a poleward temperature gradient is equivalent to an easterly reservoir of potential momentum. Potential momentum gives a global picture of the thermal field that also takes into account the meridional structure.

When the mean flow is redefined in terms of the total momentum (the standard zonal momentum plus this newly defined potential momentum), the mean-flow response to the eddy forcing can be formulated locally. This allows one to relate in equilibrium the eddy absorption and the restoration of the mean flow. Using the concept of potential momentum, vertical propagation can be related to thermal forcing by means of an equation analogous to the relation between meridional propagation and surface friction. Based on these ideas, it is argued that the time-mean eddy propagation is largely constrained by the strength and structure of the forcing.

The new formalism is applied to a forced–dissipative two-layer model to study the dependence of meridional and vertical propagation and of the global circulation on changes in the diabatic and frictional forcing time scales. It is found that baroclinic adjustment, in the form of a fixed potential vorticity (PV) gradient, is a good approximation because the intensity of the circulation only depends weakly on the forcing time scale. Another remarkable result is that, owing to the robustness of this PV gradient, thermal homogenization is always enhanced with stronger friction.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Pablo Zurita-Gotor, GFDL, Rm. 237, Princeton Forrestal Campus, U.S. Route 1, Princeton, NJ 08542. Email: pzurita@alum.mit.edu

Abstract

This paper introduces the concept of potential momentum, which is a nonlocal measure of the thermal structure that has momentum units. Physically, it may be interpreted as the zonal momentum that the flow would realize through an adiabatic redistribution of mass that made the isentropic thickness uniform poleward of a reference latitude. At the surface, a poleward temperature gradient is equivalent to an easterly reservoir of potential momentum. Potential momentum gives a global picture of the thermal field that also takes into account the meridional structure.

When the mean flow is redefined in terms of the total momentum (the standard zonal momentum plus this newly defined potential momentum), the mean-flow response to the eddy forcing can be formulated locally. This allows one to relate in equilibrium the eddy absorption and the restoration of the mean flow. Using the concept of potential momentum, vertical propagation can be related to thermal forcing by means of an equation analogous to the relation between meridional propagation and surface friction. Based on these ideas, it is argued that the time-mean eddy propagation is largely constrained by the strength and structure of the forcing.

The new formalism is applied to a forced–dissipative two-layer model to study the dependence of meridional and vertical propagation and of the global circulation on changes in the diabatic and frictional forcing time scales. It is found that baroclinic adjustment, in the form of a fixed potential vorticity (PV) gradient, is a good approximation because the intensity of the circulation only depends weakly on the forcing time scale. Another remarkable result is that, owing to the robustness of this PV gradient, thermal homogenization is always enhanced with stronger friction.

Corresponding author address: Dr. Pablo Zurita-Gotor, GFDL, Rm. 237, Princeton Forrestal Campus, U.S. Route 1, Princeton, NJ 08542. Email: pzurita@alum.mit.edu

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