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Y. D. Afanasyev, P. B. Rhines, and E. G. Lindahl

Abstract

Results from new experiments on baroclinic instability of a coastal jet demonstrate that this almost balanced flow spontaneously emits inertial waves when the Rossby radius of deformation is relatively small such that the characteristics of baroclinic meanders match the dispersion relation for the inertial waves. The energy of the waves is small compared to the energy of the flow. A single event of wave emission is identified in the experiment with larger radius of deformation and is interpreted in terms of vorticity dynamics. The flows are generated on a laboratory polar β plane where the Coriolis parameter varies quadratically with latitude. A new method for imaging the rotating flows, which the authors call “altimetric imaging velocimetry,” is employed. Optical color coding of slopes of the free-surface elevation field allows the authors to derive the fields of pressure, surface elevation, geostrophic velocity, or the “gradient wind” velocity with very high spatial resolution (typically several million vectors) limited largely by the pixel resolution of the available imaging sensors. The technique is particularly suited for the investigations of small-amplitude waves, which are often difficult to detect by other methods.

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