Barotropic Dynamics of the Beta Gyres and Beta Drift

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  • 1 Department of Meteorology, School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii
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Abstract

The movement of a symmetric vortex embedded in a resting environment with a constant planetary vorticity gradient (the beta drift) is investigated with a shallow-water model. The authors demonstrate that, depending on initial vortex structure, the vortex may follow a variety of tracks ranging from a quasi-steady displacement to a wobbling or a cycloidal track due to the evolution of a secondary asymmetric circulation. The principal part of the asymmetric circulation is a pair of counterrotating gyres (referred to as beta gyres), which determine the steering flow at the vortex center. The evolution of the beta gyres is characterized by development/decay, gyration, and radial movement.

The beta gyres develop by extracting kinetic energy from the symmetric circulation of the vortex. This energy conversion is associated with momentum advection and meridional advection of planetary vorticity. The latter (referred to as “beta conversion”) is a principal process for the generation of asymmetric circulation. A necessary condition for the development of the beta gyres is that the anticyclonic gyre must be located to the east of a cyclonic vortex center. The rate of asymmetric kinetic energy generation increases with increasing relative angular momentum of the symmetric circulation.

The counterclockwise rotation of inner beta gyres (the gyres located near the radius of maximum wind) is caused by the advection of asymmetric vorticity by symmetric cyclonic flows. On the other hand, the clockwise rotation of outer beta gyres (the gyres near the periphery of the cyclonic azimuthal wind) is determined by concurrent intensification in mutual advection of the beta gyres and symmetric circulation and weakening in the meridional advection of planetary vorticity by symmetric circulation. The outward shift of the outer beta gyres is initiated by advection of symmetric vorticity by beta gyres relative to the drifting velocity of the vortex.

Abstract

The movement of a symmetric vortex embedded in a resting environment with a constant planetary vorticity gradient (the beta drift) is investigated with a shallow-water model. The authors demonstrate that, depending on initial vortex structure, the vortex may follow a variety of tracks ranging from a quasi-steady displacement to a wobbling or a cycloidal track due to the evolution of a secondary asymmetric circulation. The principal part of the asymmetric circulation is a pair of counterrotating gyres (referred to as beta gyres), which determine the steering flow at the vortex center. The evolution of the beta gyres is characterized by development/decay, gyration, and radial movement.

The beta gyres develop by extracting kinetic energy from the symmetric circulation of the vortex. This energy conversion is associated with momentum advection and meridional advection of planetary vorticity. The latter (referred to as “beta conversion”) is a principal process for the generation of asymmetric circulation. A necessary condition for the development of the beta gyres is that the anticyclonic gyre must be located to the east of a cyclonic vortex center. The rate of asymmetric kinetic energy generation increases with increasing relative angular momentum of the symmetric circulation.

The counterclockwise rotation of inner beta gyres (the gyres located near the radius of maximum wind) is caused by the advection of asymmetric vorticity by symmetric cyclonic flows. On the other hand, the clockwise rotation of outer beta gyres (the gyres near the periphery of the cyclonic azimuthal wind) is determined by concurrent intensification in mutual advection of the beta gyres and symmetric circulation and weakening in the meridional advection of planetary vorticity by symmetric circulation. The outward shift of the outer beta gyres is initiated by advection of symmetric vorticity by beta gyres relative to the drifting velocity of the vortex.

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