Lateral coupling in baroclinically unstable flows
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A two-layer quasigeostrophic model in a channel is used to study the influence of lateral displacements of regions of different sign mean potential vorticity gradient (Πy) on the growth rate and structure of linearly unstable waves. The mean state is very idealized, with a region of positive Πy in the upper layer and a region of negative Πy in the lower layer; elsewhere Πy is zero. The growth rate and structure of the model’s unstable waves are quite sensitive to the amount of overlap between the two regions. For large amounts of overlap (more than several internal deformation radii), the channel modes described by Phillips’ model are recovered. The growth rate decreases abruptly as the amount of overlap decreases below the internal deformation radius. However, unstable modes are also found for cases in which the two nonzero Πy regions are separated far apart. In these cases, the wavenumber of the unstable waves decreases such that the aspect ratio of the wave remains O(1). The waves are characterized by a large-scale barotropic component that has maximum amplitude near one boundary but extends all the way across the channel to the opposite boundary. Near the boundaries, the wave is of mixed barotropic–baroclinic structure with cross-front scales on the order of the internal deformation radius. The perturbation heat flux is concentrated near the nonzero Πy regions, but the perturbation momentum flux extends all the way across the channel. The perturbation fluxes act to reduce the isopycnal slopes near the channel boundaries and to transmit zonal momentum from the region of Πy > 0 to the region on the opposite side of the channel where Πy < 0. These nonzero perturbation momentum fluxes are found even for a mean state that has no lateral shear in the velocity field.
Author Posting. © American Meteorological Society, 2008. This article is posted here by permission of American Meteorological Society for personal use, not for redistribution. The definitive version was published in Journal of Physical Oceanography 38 (2008): 1267-1277, doi:10.1175/2007JPO3906.1.
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