Abstract

Inertia–gravity waves (IGWs) play an essential role in the terrestrial atmospheric dynamics as they can lead to energy and momentum flux when propagating upward. An open question is to what extent IGWs contribute to the total energy and to the flattening of the energy spectrum observed at the mesoscale. In this work, we present an experimental investigation of the energy distribution between the large-scale balanced flow and the small-scale imbalanced flow. Weakly nonlinear IGWs emitted from baroclinic jets are observed in the differentially heated rotating annulus experiment. Similar to the atmospheric spectra, the experimental kinetic energy spectra reveal the typical subdivision into two distinct regimes with slopes k−3 for the large scales and k−5/3 for the small scales. By separating the spectra into the vortex and wave components, it emerges that at the large-scale end of the mesoscale the gravity waves observed in the experiment cause a flattening of the spectra and provide most of the energy. At smaller scales, our data analysis suggests a transition toward a turbulent regime with a forward energy cascade up to where dissipation by diffusive processes occurs.

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