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K. Shafer Smith

Abstract

An equivalent-barotropic fluid on the β plane, forced at small scales by random stirring and dissipated by linear heat and vorticity drag, is considered as a local model for flow in the weather layer of internally forced planetary atmospheres. The combined presence of β, a finite deformation scale, and large-scale dissipation produce novel dynamics with possible relevance to the giant gas planets, which are apparently driven by small-scale convective stirring. It is shown that in order for anisotropy to form, one must have β(ϵλ 5)−1/3 ≳ 3.9, where ϵ is the (convectively driven) energy generation rate, λ is the deformation wavenumber, and β is the Coriolis gradient. The critical value above is not equivalent to the barotropic stability criterion, and numerical simulations demonstrate that anisotropic flow with average zonal velocities that are supercritical with respect to the latter can form. The formation of jets (a different matter) is not implied by the excess of zonal kinetic energy, and is instead sensitive to the relevant stability criterion for the flow geometry at hand. When β is sufficiently large that anisotropy does form, the flow scale and rms zonal velocity are set by a combination of Rossby wave cascade inhibition, the total energy constraint imposed by the large-scale dissipation, and the partitioning between available potential and kinetic energies. The resulting theory demonstrates that a relatively narrow range of parameters will allow for the formation of anisotropic flow with scale larger than the deformation scale. This is consistent with observations that indicate little separation between the jet scales and deformation scales on Jupiter and Saturn.

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K. Shafer Smith

Abstract

As in the midlatitude atmosphere, midocean eddies are primarily generated by baroclinically unstable mean currents. In contrast to the atmosphere, however, oceanic currents are significantly nonzonal. Even weak nonzonal currents are linearly unstable since β does not suppress growing meridional waves. Theories for the nonlinear equilibration of baroclinic instability, and hence theories for the amplitudes of midocean eddies, must therefore take into account the different dynamics of nonzonal flow. It is shown here that the amplitude of fully developed baroclinic turbulence due to nonzonal shears differs from that due to zonal shears primarily in the nature of the eddy generation. Since β will act to create large-scale zonal jet structures regardless of the generation source, the nature of eddy fluxes of potential vorticity (the source of eddy energy) in the zonal and meridional directions are fundamentally different. The cross-jet mixing has been shown previously to obey a mixing-length scaling, and this corresponds to the generation due to unstable zonal flow. The along-jet mixing, which corresponds to the generation due to the meridional shear, is shown here to be best described by a shear dispersion model. The resulting flux is orders of magnitude higher than in the cross-jet direction, and thus eddy energies driven by baroclinically unstable mean flows with a nonzero meridional component are much larger. This provides an explanation for recently reported results. Moreover, given recent observational and modeling studies showing the ubiquitous presence of zonal jets in the oceans, the results presented here indicate a powerful source of eddy energy.

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K. Shafer Smith
and
Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

The linear wave and baroclinic instability properties of various geostrophic models valid when the Rossby number is small are investigated. The models are the “L 1” dynamics, the “geostrophic potential vorticity” equations, and the more familiar quasigeostrophic and planetary geostrophic equations. Multilayer shallow water equations are used as a control. The goal is to determine whether these models accurately portray linear baroclinic instability properties in various geophysically relevant parameter regimes, in a highly idealized and limited set of cases. The L 1 and geostrophic potential vorticity models are properly balanced (devoid of inertio-gravity waves, except possibly at solid boundaries), valid on the β plane, and contain both quasigeostrophy and planetary geostrophy as limits in different parameter regimes; hence, they are appropriate models for phenomena that span the deformation and planetary scales of motion. The L 1 model also includes the “frontal geostrophic” equations as a third limit. In fact, the choice to investigate such relatively unfamiliar models is motivated precisely by their applicability to multiple scales of motion.

The models are cast in multilayer form, and the dispersion properties and eigenfunctions of wave modes and baroclinic instabilities produced are found numerically. It is found that both the L 1 and geostrophic potential vorticity models have sensible linear stability properties with no artifactual instabilities or divergences. Their growth rates are very close to those of the shallow water equations in both quasigeostrophic and planetary geostrophic parameter regimes. The growth rate of baroclinic instability in the planetary geostrophic equations is shown to be generally less than the growth rate of the other models near the deformation radius. The growth rate of the planetary geostrophic equations diverges at high wavenumbers, but it is shown how this is ameliorated by the presence of the relative vorticity term in the geostrophic potential vorticity equations.

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K. Shafer Smith
and
Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

Quasigeostrophic turbulence theory and numerical simulation are used to study the mechanisms determining the scale, structure, and equilibration of mesoscale ocean eddies. The present work concentrates on using freely decaying geostrophic turbulence to understand and explain the vertical and horizontal flow of energy through a stratified, horizontally homogeneous geostrophic fluid. It is found that the stratification profile, in particular the presence of a pycnocline, has significant, qualitative effects on the efficiency and spectral pathways of energy flow. Specifically, with uniform stratification, energy in high baroclinic modes transfers directly, quickly (within a few eddy turnaround times), and almost completely to the barotropic mode. By contrast, in the presence of oceanlike stratification, kinetic energy in high baroclinic modes transfers intermediately to the first baroclinic mode, whence it transfers inefficiently (and incompletely) to the barotropic mode. The efficiency of transfer to the barotropic mode is reduced as the pycnocline is made increasingly thin. The β effect, on the other hand, improves the efficiency of barotropization, but for oceanically realistic parameters this effect is relatively unimportant compared to the effects of nonuniform stratification. Finally, the nature of turbulent cascade dynamics is such as to lead to a concentration of first baroclinic mode kinetic energy near the first radius of deformation, which, in the case of a nonuniform and oceanically realistic stratification, has a significant projection at the surface. This may in part explain recent observations of surface eddy scales by TOPEX/Poseidon satellite altimetry, which indicate a correlation of surface-height variance with the scale of the first deformation radius.

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K. Shafer Smith
and
Geoffrey K. Vallis

Abstract

The statistical dynamics of midocean eddies, generated by baroclinic instability of a zonal mean flow, are studied in the context of homogeneous stratified quasigeostrophic turbulence. Existing theory for eddy scales and energies in fully developed turbulence is generalized and applied to a system with surface-intensified stratification and arbitrary zonal shear. The theory gives a scaling for the magnitude of the eddy potential vorticity flux, and its (momentum conserving) vertical structure. The theory is tested numerically by varying the magnitude and mode of the mean shear, the Coriolis gradient, and scale thickness of the stratification and found to be partially successful. It is found that the dynamics of energy in high (m > 1) baroclinic modes typically resembles the turbulent diffusion of a passive scalar, regardless of the stratification profile, although energy in the first mode does not. It is also found that surface-intensified stratification affects the baroclinicity of flow: as thermocline thickness is decreased, the (statistically equilibrated) baroclinic energy levels remain nearly constant but the statistically equilibrated level of barotropic eddy energy falls. Eddy statistics are found to be relatively insensitive to the magnitude of linear bottom drag in the small drag limit. The theory for the magnitude and structure of the eddy potential vorticity flux is tested against a 15-layer simulation using profiles of density and shear representative of those found in the mid North Atlantic; the theory shows good skill in representing the vertical structure of the flux, and so might serve as the basis for a parameterization of eddy fluxes in the midocean. Finally, baroclinic kinetic energy is found to concentrate near the deformation scale. To the degree that surface motions represent baroclinic eddy kinetic energy, the present results are consistent with the observed correlation between surface eddy scales and the first radius of deformation.

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Ross Tulloch
and
K. Shafer Smith

Abstract

The quasigeostrophic equations consist of the advection of linearized potential vorticity coupled with advection of temperature at the bounding upper and lower surfaces. Numerical models of quasigeostrophic flow often employ greater (scaled) resolution in the horizontal than in the vertical (the two-layer model is an extreme example). In the interior, this has the effect of suppressing interactions between layers at horizontal scales that are small compared to Nδz/f (where δz is the vertical resolution, N the buoyancy frequency, and f the Coriolis parameter). The nature of the turbulent cascade in the interior is, however, not fundamentally altered because the downscale cascade of potential enstrophy in quasigeostrophic turbulence and the downscale cascade of enstrophy in two-dimensional turbulence (occurring layerwise) both yield energy spectra with slopes of −3. It is shown here that a similar restriction on the vertical resolution applies to the representation of horizontal motions at the surfaces, but the penalty for underresolving in the vertical is complete suppression of the surface temperature cascade at small scales and a corresponding artificial steepening of the surface energy spectrum. This effect is demonstrated in the nonlinear Eady model, using a finite-difference representation in comparison with a model that explicitly advects temperature at the upper and lower surfaces. Theoretical predictions for the spectrum of turbulence in the nonlinear Eady model are reviewed and compared to the simulated flows, showing that the latter model yields an accurate representation of the cascade dynamics. To accurately represent dynamics at horizontal wavenumber K in the vertically finite-differenced model, it is found that the vertical grid spacing must satisfy δz ≲ 0.3f/(NK); at wavenumbers K > 0.3f/(Nδz), the spectrum of temperature variance rolls off rapidly.

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K. Shafer Smith
and
Ross Tulloch
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Ross Tulloch
and
K. Shafer Smith

Abstract

The horizontal wavenumber spectra of wind and temperature near the tropopause have a steep −3 slope at synoptic scales and a shallower −5/3 slope at mesoscales, with a transition between the two regimes at a wavelength of about 450 km. Here it is demonstrated that a quasigeostrophic model driven by baroclinic instability exhibits such a transition near its upper boundary (analogous to the tropopause) when surface temperature advection at that boundary is properly resolved and forced. To accurately represent surface advection at the upper and lower boundaries, the vertical structure of the model streamfunction is decomposed into four parts, representing the interior flow with the first two neutral modes, and each surface with its Green’s function solution, resulting in a system with four prognostic equations. Mean temperature gradients are applied at each surface, and a mean potential vorticity gradient consisting both of β and vertical shear is applied in the interior. The system exhibits three fundamental types of baroclinic instability: interactions between the upper and lower surfaces (Eady type), interactions between one surface and the interior (Charney type), and interactions between the barotropic and baroclinic interior modes (Phillips type). The turbulent steady states that result from each of these instabilities are distinct, and those of the former two types yield shallow kinetic energy spectra at small scales along those boundaries where mean temperature gradients are present. When both mean interior and surface gradients are present, the surface spectrum reflects a superposition of the interior-dominated −3 slope cascade at large scales, and the surface-dominated −5/3 slope cascade at small scales. The transition wavenumber depends linearly on the ratio of the interior potential vorticity gradient to the surface temperature gradient, and scales with the inverse of the deformation scale when β = 0.

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K. Shafer Smith
and
Raffaele Ferrari

Abstract

Temperature–salinity profiles from the region studied in the North Atlantic Tracer Release Experiment (NATRE) show large isopycnal excursions at depths just below the thermocline. It is proposed here that these thermohaline filaments result from the mesoscale stirring of large-scale temperature and salinity gradients by geostrophic turbulence, resulting in a direct cascade of thermohaline variance to small scales. This hypothesis is investigated as follows: Measurements from NATRE are used to generate mean temperature, salinity, and shear profiles. The mean stratification and shear are used as the background state in a high-resolution horizontally homogeneous quasigeostrophic model. The mean state is baroclinically unstable, and the model produces a vigorous eddy field. Temperature and salinity are stirred laterally in each density layer by the geostrophic velocity and vertical advection is by the ageostrophic velocity. The simulated temperature–salinity diagram exhibits fluctuations at depths just below the thermocline of similar magnitude to those found in the NATRE data. It is shown that vertical diffusion is sufficient to absorb the laterally driven cascade of tracer variance through an amplification of filamentary slopes by small-scale shear. These results suggest that there is a strong coupling between vertical mixing and horizontal stirring in the ocean at scales below the deformation radius.

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