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Wave–Mean Flow Interactions and the Maintenance of Superrotation in a Terrestrial Atmosphere

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences, University of São Paulo, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, Brazil
  • | 2 Department of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences, and Department of Atmospheric and Oceanic Sciences, University of California, Los Angeles, Los Angeles, California
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Abstract

The interplay between mean meridional circulation and transient eddies through wave–mean flow interaction processes defines the general behavior of any planetary atmospheric circulation. Under a higher-Rossby-number regime, equatorward momentum transports provided by large-scale disturbances generate a strong zonal flow at the equatorial region. At intermediate Rossby numbers, equatorial Kelvin waves play a leading role in maintaining a superrotating jet over the equator. However, at high Rossby numbers, the Kelvin wave only provides equatorward momentum fluxes during spinup, and the wave–mean flow process that maintains this strongly superrotating state has yet to be identified. This study presents a comprehensive analysis of the tridimensional structure and life cycle of atmospheric waves and their interaction with the mean flow, which maintains the strong, long-lived superrotating state in a higher-Rossby-number-regime atmosphere. The results show that the mean zonal superrotating circulation is maintained by the dynamical interaction between mixed baroclinic–barotropic Rossby wave modes via low-frequency variations of the zonal-mean state in short and sporadic periods of stronger instability. The modulation of amplitude of the equatorial and extratropical Rossby waves suggests a nonlinear mechanism of eddy–eddy interaction between these modes.

Corresponding author address: João Rafael Dias Pinto, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences, University of São Paulo, Rua do Matão 1226, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP, CEP 05508-090, Brazil. E-mail: joaorafaeldias@gmail.com; jonmitch@ucla.edu

Abstract

The interplay between mean meridional circulation and transient eddies through wave–mean flow interaction processes defines the general behavior of any planetary atmospheric circulation. Under a higher-Rossby-number regime, equatorward momentum transports provided by large-scale disturbances generate a strong zonal flow at the equatorial region. At intermediate Rossby numbers, equatorial Kelvin waves play a leading role in maintaining a superrotating jet over the equator. However, at high Rossby numbers, the Kelvin wave only provides equatorward momentum fluxes during spinup, and the wave–mean flow process that maintains this strongly superrotating state has yet to be identified. This study presents a comprehensive analysis of the tridimensional structure and life cycle of atmospheric waves and their interaction with the mean flow, which maintains the strong, long-lived superrotating state in a higher-Rossby-number-regime atmosphere. The results show that the mean zonal superrotating circulation is maintained by the dynamical interaction between mixed baroclinic–barotropic Rossby wave modes via low-frequency variations of the zonal-mean state in short and sporadic periods of stronger instability. The modulation of amplitude of the equatorial and extratropical Rossby waves suggests a nonlinear mechanism of eddy–eddy interaction between these modes.

Corresponding author address: João Rafael Dias Pinto, Dept. of Atmospheric Sciences, Institute of Astronomy, Geophysics and Atmospheric Sciences, University of São Paulo, Rua do Matão 1226, Cidade Universitária, São Paulo, SP, CEP 05508-090, Brazil. E-mail: joaorafaeldias@gmail.com; jonmitch@ucla.edu
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