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A Theory of Baroclinic Turbulence

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  • 1 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Department of Physics, National and Capodistrian University of Athens, Athens, Greece
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Abstract

Understanding the physical mechanism maintaining fluid turbulence remains a fundamental theoretical problem. The two-layer model is an analytically and computationally simple system in which the dynamics of turbulence can be conveniently studied; in this work, a maximally simplified model of the statistically steady turbulent state in this system is constructed to isolate and identify the essential mechanism of turbulence. In this minimally complex turbulence model the effects of nonlinearity are parameterized using an energetically consistent stochastic process that is white in both space and time, turbulent fluxes are obtained using a stochastic turbulence model (STM), and statistically steady turbulent states are identified using stochastic structural stability theory (SSST). These turbulent states are the fixed-point equilibria of the nonlinear SSST system. For parameter values typical of the midlatitude atmosphere, these equilibria predict the emergence of marginally stable eddy-driven baroclinic jets. The eddy variances and fluxes associated with these jets and the power-law scaling of eddy variances and fluxes are consistent with observations and simulations of baroclinic turbulence. This optimally simple model isolates the essential physics of baroclinic turbulence: maintenance of variance by transient perturbation growth, replenishment of the transiently growing subspace by nonlinear energetically conservative eddy–eddy scattering, and equilibration to a statistically steady state of marginal stability by a combination of nonlinear eddy-induced mean jet modification and eddy dissipation. These statistical equilibrium states provide a theory for the general circulation of baroclinically turbulent planetary atmospheres.

Corresponding author address: Brian Farrell, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Geological Museum 452, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Email: farrell@seas.harvard.edu

Abstract

Understanding the physical mechanism maintaining fluid turbulence remains a fundamental theoretical problem. The two-layer model is an analytically and computationally simple system in which the dynamics of turbulence can be conveniently studied; in this work, a maximally simplified model of the statistically steady turbulent state in this system is constructed to isolate and identify the essential mechanism of turbulence. In this minimally complex turbulence model the effects of nonlinearity are parameterized using an energetically consistent stochastic process that is white in both space and time, turbulent fluxes are obtained using a stochastic turbulence model (STM), and statistically steady turbulent states are identified using stochastic structural stability theory (SSST). These turbulent states are the fixed-point equilibria of the nonlinear SSST system. For parameter values typical of the midlatitude atmosphere, these equilibria predict the emergence of marginally stable eddy-driven baroclinic jets. The eddy variances and fluxes associated with these jets and the power-law scaling of eddy variances and fluxes are consistent with observations and simulations of baroclinic turbulence. This optimally simple model isolates the essential physics of baroclinic turbulence: maintenance of variance by transient perturbation growth, replenishment of the transiently growing subspace by nonlinear energetically conservative eddy–eddy scattering, and equilibration to a statistically steady state of marginal stability by a combination of nonlinear eddy-induced mean jet modification and eddy dissipation. These statistical equilibrium states provide a theory for the general circulation of baroclinically turbulent planetary atmospheres.

Corresponding author address: Brian Farrell, Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Geological Museum 452, 24 Oxford Street, Cambridge, MA 02138. Email: farrell@seas.harvard.edu

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