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How Large-Scale and Cyclogeostrophic Barotropic Instabilities Favor the Formation of Anticyclonic Vortices in the Ocean

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  • 1 Laboratoire Ondes et Milieux Complexes, Université du Havre, Le Havre, France
  • | 2 Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, Ecole Polytechnique, Palaiseau, France
  • | 3 Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, ENS, Paris, and UME, ENSTA Centre de l’Yvette, Chemin de la Hunière, Palaiseau, France
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Abstract

Large-scale vortices, that is, eddies whose characteristic length scale is larger than the local Rossby radius of deformation Rd, are ubiquitous in the oceans, with anticyclonic vortices more prevalent than cyclonic ones. Stability or robustness properties of already formed shallow-water vortices have been investigated to explain this cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry. Here the focus is on possible asymmetries during the generation of vortices through barotropic instability of a parallel flow. The initial stage and the nonlinear stage of the instability are studied by means of linear stability analysis and direct numerical simulations of the one-layer rotating shallow-water equations, respectively. A wide variety of parallel flows are studied: isolated shears, the Bickley jet, and a family of wakes obtained by combining two shears of opposite signs.

The results show that, when the flow is characterized by finite relative isopycnal deviation, the barotropic instability favors the formation of large-scale anticyclonic eddies. The authors emphasize here that the cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry of parallel flows may appear at the linear stage of the instability. This asymmetry finds its origin in the linear stability property of localized shear flows. Indeed, for both the cyclogeostrophic regime (finite Rossby number) and the frontal geostrophic regime (small Burger number), an anticyclonic shear flow has higher linear growth rates than an equivalent cyclonic shear flow. The nonlinear saturation then leads to the formation of almost axisymmetric anticyclones, while the cyclones tend to be more elongated in the shear direction.

However, although some unstable parallel flows exhibit the asymmetry at the linear stage, others exhibit such asymmetry at the nonlinear stage only. If the distance separating two shear regions is large enough, the barotropic instability develops independently in each shear, leading in the frontal and the cyclogeostrophic regime to a significant cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry at the linear stage. Conversely, if the two shear regions are close to each other, the shears tend to be coupled at the linear stage. The most unstable perturbation then resembles the sinuous mode of the Bickley jet, making no distinction between regions of cyclonic or anticyclonic vorticity. Nevertheless, when the nonlinear saturation occurs, large-scale anticyclones tend to be axisymmetric while the cyclonic structures are highly distorted and elongated along the jet meander.

Corresponding author address: Gaële Perret, Laboratoire Ondes et Milieux Complexes, 53, rue Prony, BP540, 76058 Le Havre CEDEX, France. Email: perretg@univ-lehavre.fr

Abstract

Large-scale vortices, that is, eddies whose characteristic length scale is larger than the local Rossby radius of deformation Rd, are ubiquitous in the oceans, with anticyclonic vortices more prevalent than cyclonic ones. Stability or robustness properties of already formed shallow-water vortices have been investigated to explain this cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry. Here the focus is on possible asymmetries during the generation of vortices through barotropic instability of a parallel flow. The initial stage and the nonlinear stage of the instability are studied by means of linear stability analysis and direct numerical simulations of the one-layer rotating shallow-water equations, respectively. A wide variety of parallel flows are studied: isolated shears, the Bickley jet, and a family of wakes obtained by combining two shears of opposite signs.

The results show that, when the flow is characterized by finite relative isopycnal deviation, the barotropic instability favors the formation of large-scale anticyclonic eddies. The authors emphasize here that the cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry of parallel flows may appear at the linear stage of the instability. This asymmetry finds its origin in the linear stability property of localized shear flows. Indeed, for both the cyclogeostrophic regime (finite Rossby number) and the frontal geostrophic regime (small Burger number), an anticyclonic shear flow has higher linear growth rates than an equivalent cyclonic shear flow. The nonlinear saturation then leads to the formation of almost axisymmetric anticyclones, while the cyclones tend to be more elongated in the shear direction.

However, although some unstable parallel flows exhibit the asymmetry at the linear stage, others exhibit such asymmetry at the nonlinear stage only. If the distance separating two shear regions is large enough, the barotropic instability develops independently in each shear, leading in the frontal and the cyclogeostrophic regime to a significant cyclone–anticyclone asymmetry at the linear stage. Conversely, if the two shear regions are close to each other, the shears tend to be coupled at the linear stage. The most unstable perturbation then resembles the sinuous mode of the Bickley jet, making no distinction between regions of cyclonic or anticyclonic vorticity. Nevertheless, when the nonlinear saturation occurs, large-scale anticyclones tend to be axisymmetric while the cyclonic structures are highly distorted and elongated along the jet meander.

Corresponding author address: Gaële Perret, Laboratoire Ondes et Milieux Complexes, 53, rue Prony, BP540, 76058 Le Havre CEDEX, France. Email: perretg@univ-lehavre.fr

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