Multistability and rare spontaneous transitions in barotropic β-plane turbulence

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  • 1 INPHYNI
  • 2 Univ Lyon, Ens de Lyon, Univ Claude Bernard, CNRS, Laboratoire de Physique, Lyon, France
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Abstract

We demonstrate that turbulent zonal jets, analogous to Jovian ones, which are quasi-stationary, are actually metastable. After extremely long times, they randomly switch to new configurations with a different number of jets. The genericity of this phenomenon suggests that most quasi-stationary turbulent planetary atmospheres might have many climates and attractors for fixed values of the external forcing parameters. A key message is that this situation will usually not be detected by simply running the numerical models, because of the extremely long mean transition time to change from one climate to another. In order to study such phenomena, we need to use specific tools: rare event algorithms and large deviation theory. With these tools, we make a full statistical mechanics study of a classical barotropic beta-plane quasigeostrophic model. It exhibits robust bimodality with abrupt transitions. We show that new jets spontaneously nucleate from westward jets. The numerically computed mean transition time is consistent with an Arrhenius law showing an exponential decrease of the probability as the Ekman dissipation decreases. This phenomenology is controlled by rare noise-driven paths called instantons. Moreover, we compute the saddles of the corresponding effective dynamics. For the dynamics of states with three alternating jets, we uncover an unexpectedly rich dynamics governed by the symmetric group S3 of permutations, with two distinct families of instantons, which is a surprise for a system where everything seemed stationary in the hundreds of previous simulations of this model. We discuss the future generalization of our approach to more realistic models.

Corresponding author address: Eric Simonnet, INPHYNI, UMR7010 CNRS-UNS, 1361, route des Lucioles, 06560 Valbonne. E-mail: eric.simonnet@inphyni.cnrs.fr

Abstract

We demonstrate that turbulent zonal jets, analogous to Jovian ones, which are quasi-stationary, are actually metastable. After extremely long times, they randomly switch to new configurations with a different number of jets. The genericity of this phenomenon suggests that most quasi-stationary turbulent planetary atmospheres might have many climates and attractors for fixed values of the external forcing parameters. A key message is that this situation will usually not be detected by simply running the numerical models, because of the extremely long mean transition time to change from one climate to another. In order to study such phenomena, we need to use specific tools: rare event algorithms and large deviation theory. With these tools, we make a full statistical mechanics study of a classical barotropic beta-plane quasigeostrophic model. It exhibits robust bimodality with abrupt transitions. We show that new jets spontaneously nucleate from westward jets. The numerically computed mean transition time is consistent with an Arrhenius law showing an exponential decrease of the probability as the Ekman dissipation decreases. This phenomenology is controlled by rare noise-driven paths called instantons. Moreover, we compute the saddles of the corresponding effective dynamics. For the dynamics of states with three alternating jets, we uncover an unexpectedly rich dynamics governed by the symmetric group S3 of permutations, with two distinct families of instantons, which is a surprise for a system where everything seemed stationary in the hundreds of previous simulations of this model. We discuss the future generalization of our approach to more realistic models.

Corresponding author address: Eric Simonnet, INPHYNI, UMR7010 CNRS-UNS, 1361, route des Lucioles, 06560 Valbonne. E-mail: eric.simonnet@inphyni.cnrs.fr
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