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Yohai Kaspi
and
Glenn R. Flierl

Abstract

In this paper it is proposed that baroclinic instability of even a weak shear may play an important role in the generation and stability of the strong zonal jets observed in the atmospheres of the giant planets. The atmosphere is modeled as a two-layer structure, where the upper layer is a standard quasigeostrophic layer on a β plane and the lower layer is parameterized to represent a deep interior convective columnar structure using a negative β plane as in Ingersoll and Pollard. Linear stability theory predicts that the high wavenumber perturbations will be the dominant unstable modes for a small vertical wind shear like that inferred from observations. Here a nonlinear analytical model is developed that is truncated to one growing mode that exhibits a multiple jet meridional structure, driven by the nonlinear interaction between the eddies. In the weakly supercritical limit, this model agrees with previous weakly nonlinear theory, but it can be explored beyond this limit allowing the multiple jet–induced zonal flow to be stronger than the eddy field. Calculations with a fully nonlinear pseudospectral model produce stable meridional multijet structures when beginning from a random potential vorticity perturbation field. The instability removes energy from the background weak baroclinic shear and generates turbulent eddies that undergo an inverse energy cascade and form multijet zonal winds. The jets are the dominant feature in the instantaneous upper-layer flow, with the eddies being relatively weak. The jets scale with the Rhines length, but are strong enough to violate the barotropic stability criterion. It is shown that the basic physical mechanism for the generation and stability of the jets in the full numerical model is similar to that of the truncated model.

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