Numerical Study of an Interacting Rossby Wave and Barotropic Zonal Flow Near a Critical Level

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  • 1 Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science, University of Miami, Coral Gables, Fla. 33124
  • | 2 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colo. 80303
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Abstract

This paper treats the initial value problem of a forced Rossby wave encountering a critical level in a barotropic zonal shear flow which can change in response to the wave momentum flux divergence. The main result of the calculation is that the shape of the zonal flow profile changes with time in such a way as to reduce the potential vorticity gradient (β−Uyy) to zero at the critical level. For this configuration the wave is totally reflected at the critical level and in the absence of dissipation no longer interacts with the zonal flow. Details of the evolution toward the steady state depend on the ratio of two time scales, one a measure of the wave amplitude and the other representing the time it takes for the wave momentum flux to be concentrated in a well-defined critical layer.

The steady-state balance between wave and mean flow probably never occurs in the atmosphere because the time required to set it up is long compared to the expected time scale of natural variability of the zonal flow. More relevant to atmospheric flows is the fact that excursions of (β−Uyy) to negative values during the approach to a steady state are attended by over reflection of the incident wave and a temporary reversal of the wave momentum flux. After the first of these excursions, occurring on a time scale comparable to that required to set up a critical layer, the zonal flow is never far from the final equilibrium profile.

Abstract

This paper treats the initial value problem of a forced Rossby wave encountering a critical level in a barotropic zonal shear flow which can change in response to the wave momentum flux divergence. The main result of the calculation is that the shape of the zonal flow profile changes with time in such a way as to reduce the potential vorticity gradient (β−Uyy) to zero at the critical level. For this configuration the wave is totally reflected at the critical level and in the absence of dissipation no longer interacts with the zonal flow. Details of the evolution toward the steady state depend on the ratio of two time scales, one a measure of the wave amplitude and the other representing the time it takes for the wave momentum flux to be concentrated in a well-defined critical layer.

The steady-state balance between wave and mean flow probably never occurs in the atmosphere because the time required to set it up is long compared to the expected time scale of natural variability of the zonal flow. More relevant to atmospheric flows is the fact that excursions of (β−Uyy) to negative values during the approach to a steady state are attended by over reflection of the incident wave and a temporary reversal of the wave momentum flux. After the first of these excursions, occurring on a time scale comparable to that required to set up a critical layer, the zonal flow is never far from the final equilibrium profile.

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