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Tsz Yan Leung, Martin Leutbecher, Sebastian Reich, and Theodore G. Shepherd

Abstract

The accepted idea that there exists an inherent finite-time barrier in deterministically predicting atmospheric flows originates from Edward N. Lorenz’s 1969 work based on two-dimensional (2D) turbulence. Yet, known analytic results on the 2D Navier–Stokes (N-S) equations suggest that one can skillfully predict the 2D N-S system indefinitely far ahead should the initial-condition error become sufficiently small, thereby presenting a potential conflict with Lorenz’s theory. Aided by numerical simulations, the present work reexamines Lorenz’s model and reviews both sides of the argument, paying particular attention to the roles played by the slope of the kinetic energy spectrum. It is found that when this slope is shallower than −3, the Lipschitz continuity of analytic solutions (with respect to initial conditions) breaks down as the model resolution increases, unless the viscous range of the real system is resolved—which remains practically impossible. This breakdown leads to the inherent finite-time limit. If, on the other hand, the spectral slope is steeper than −3, then the breakdown does not occur. In this way, the apparent contradiction between the analytic results and Lorenz’s theory is reconciled.

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Tsz Yan Leung, Martin Leutbecher, Sebastian Reich, and Theodore G. Shepherd

Abstract

Global numerical weather prediction (NWP) models have begun to resolve the mesoscale k −5/3 range of the energy spectrum, which is known to impose an inherently finite range of deterministic predictability per se as errors develop more rapidly on these scales than on the larger scales. However, the dynamics of these errors under the influence of the synoptic-scale k −3 range is little studied. Within a perfect-model context, the present work examines the error growth behavior under such a hybrid spectrum in Lorenz’s original model of 1969, and in a series of identical-twin perturbation experiments using an idealized two-dimensional barotropic turbulence model at a range of resolutions. With the typical resolution of today’s global NWP ensembles, error growth remains largely uniform across scales. The theoretically expected fast error growth characteristic of a k −5/3 spectrum is seen to be largely suppressed in the first decade of the mesoscale range by the synoptic-scale k −3 range. However, it emerges once models become fully able to resolve features on something like a 20-km scale, which corresponds to a grid resolution on the order of a few kilometers.

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