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Effective Diffusivity in Baroclinic Flow

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  • 1 Program in Atmospheres, Oceans, and Climate, Department of Earth, Atmospheric and Planetary Sciences, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Large-scale chaotic stirring stretches tracer contours into filaments containing fine spatial scales until small-scale diffusive processes dissipate tracer variance. Quantification of tracer transport in such circumstances is possible through the use of Nakamura’s “effective diffusivity” diagnostics, which make clear the controlling role of stirring, rather than small-scale dissipation, in large-scale transport. Existing theory of effective diffusivity is based on a layerwise approach, in which tracer variance is presumed to cascade via horizontal (or isentropic) stirring to small-scale horizontal (or isentropic) diffusion. In most geophysical flows of interest, however, baroclinic shear will tilt stirred filamentary structures into almost-horizontal sheets, in which case the thinnest dimension is vertical; accordingly, it will be vertical (or diabatic) diffusion that provides the ultimate dissipation of variance. Here new theoretical developments define effective diffusivity in such flows. In the frequently relevant case of isentropic stirring, it is shown that the theory is, in most respects, unchanged from the case of isentropic diffusion: effective isentropic diffusivity is controlled by the isentropic stirring and, it is argued, largely independent of the nature of the ultimate dissipation. Diabatic diffusion is not amplified by the stirring, although it can be modestly enhanced through eddy modulation of static stability. These characteristics are illustrated in numerical simulations of a stratospheric flow; in regions of strong stirring, the theoretical predictions are well supported, but agreement is less good where stirring is weaker.

Current affiliation: Center for Earth and Environmental Science, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, New York.

Corresponding author address: Eric M. Leibensperger, 101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901. E-mail: eric.leibensperger@plattsburgh.edu

Abstract

Large-scale chaotic stirring stretches tracer contours into filaments containing fine spatial scales until small-scale diffusive processes dissipate tracer variance. Quantification of tracer transport in such circumstances is possible through the use of Nakamura’s “effective diffusivity” diagnostics, which make clear the controlling role of stirring, rather than small-scale dissipation, in large-scale transport. Existing theory of effective diffusivity is based on a layerwise approach, in which tracer variance is presumed to cascade via horizontal (or isentropic) stirring to small-scale horizontal (or isentropic) diffusion. In most geophysical flows of interest, however, baroclinic shear will tilt stirred filamentary structures into almost-horizontal sheets, in which case the thinnest dimension is vertical; accordingly, it will be vertical (or diabatic) diffusion that provides the ultimate dissipation of variance. Here new theoretical developments define effective diffusivity in such flows. In the frequently relevant case of isentropic stirring, it is shown that the theory is, in most respects, unchanged from the case of isentropic diffusion: effective isentropic diffusivity is controlled by the isentropic stirring and, it is argued, largely independent of the nature of the ultimate dissipation. Diabatic diffusion is not amplified by the stirring, although it can be modestly enhanced through eddy modulation of static stability. These characteristics are illustrated in numerical simulations of a stratospheric flow; in regions of strong stirring, the theoretical predictions are well supported, but agreement is less good where stirring is weaker.

Current affiliation: Center for Earth and Environmental Science, State University of New York at Plattsburgh, Plattsburgh, New York.

Corresponding author address: Eric M. Leibensperger, 101 Broad Street, Plattsburgh, NY 12901. E-mail: eric.leibensperger@plattsburgh.edu
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