Nonlinear Equilibration of Localized Instabilities on a Baroclinic Jet

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  • 1 Division of Applied Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • | 2 Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, Harvard University, Cambridge, Massachusetts
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Abstract

Dynamical mechanisms underlying the equilibration of absolute instability are examined in a nonlinear, quasigeostrophic, two-layer model. The key to understanding the nonlinear equilibration is in recognizing that linear absolute instabilities can be stabilized both by a reduction of the vertical shear and by enhancement of the mean barotropic velocity. In a localized domain, the equilibration process proceeds with the creation of locally convectively unstable regions downstream, which encroach onto the locally absolutely unstable region until the local instability is suppressed. That local instabilities exist only if absolutely unstable regions span a minimum size is verified by eigenvalue calculations of three-dimensional flows. Numerical examples suggest that this critical size is at least 9000 km for a wide range of parameter values chosen to investigate the midlatitude storm tracks. Fluctuations arising from local absolute instability obtain maximum amplitude in the downstream convectively unstable regions rather than in the absolutely unstable regions themselves. Together, these results suggest that if an equilibrated absolute instability were to occur in midlatitudes, a zonal band of surface easterlies exceeding 9000 km would be required and the associated enhanced variances would not be found coincident with the regions of absolute instability.

Abstract

Dynamical mechanisms underlying the equilibration of absolute instability are examined in a nonlinear, quasigeostrophic, two-layer model. The key to understanding the nonlinear equilibration is in recognizing that linear absolute instabilities can be stabilized both by a reduction of the vertical shear and by enhancement of the mean barotropic velocity. In a localized domain, the equilibration process proceeds with the creation of locally convectively unstable regions downstream, which encroach onto the locally absolutely unstable region until the local instability is suppressed. That local instabilities exist only if absolutely unstable regions span a minimum size is verified by eigenvalue calculations of three-dimensional flows. Numerical examples suggest that this critical size is at least 9000 km for a wide range of parameter values chosen to investigate the midlatitude storm tracks. Fluctuations arising from local absolute instability obtain maximum amplitude in the downstream convectively unstable regions rather than in the absolutely unstable regions themselves. Together, these results suggest that if an equilibrated absolute instability were to occur in midlatitudes, a zonal band of surface easterlies exceeding 9000 km would be required and the associated enhanced variances would not be found coincident with the regions of absolute instability.

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