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On the generation mechanisms of short-scale unbalanced modes in rotating two-layer flows with vertical shear

Williams, P. D., Haine, T. W. N. and Read, P. L. (2005) On the generation mechanisms of short-scale unbalanced modes in rotating two-layer flows with vertical shear. Journal Of Fluid Mechanics , 528. pp. 1-22. ISSN 0022-1120

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To link to this article DOI: 10.1017/S0022112004002873


We report on the results of a laboratory investigation using a rotating two-layer annulus experiment, which exhibits both large-scale vortical modes and short-scale divergent modes. A sophisticated visualization method allows us to observe the flow at very high spatial and temporal resolution. The balanced long-wavelength modes appear only when the Froude number is supercritical (i.e. $F\,{>}\,F_\mathrm{critical}\,{\equiv}\, \upi^2/2$), and are therefore consistent with generation by a baroclinic instability. The unbalanced short-wavelength modes appear locally in every single baroclinically unstable flow, providing perhaps the first direct experimental evidence that all evolving vortical flows will tend to emit freely propagating inertia–gravity waves. The short-wavelength modes also appear in certain baroclinically stable flows. We infer the generation mechanisms of the short-scale waves, both for the baro-clinically unstable case in which they co-exist with a large-scale wave, and for the baroclinically stable case in which they exist alone. The two possible mechanisms considered are spontaneous adjustment of the large-scale flow, and Kelvin–Helmholtz shear instability. Short modes in the baroclinically stable regime are generated only when the Richardson number is subcritical (i.e. $\hbox{\it Ri}\,{<}\,\hbox{\it Ri}_\mathrm{critical}\,{\equiv}\, 1$), and are therefore consistent with generation by a Kelvin–Helmholtz instability. We calculate five indicators of short-wave generation in the baroclinically unstable regime, using data from a quasi-geostrophic numerical model of the annulus. There is excellent agreement between the spatial locations of short-wave emission observed in the laboratory, and regions in which the model Lighthill/Ford inertia–gravity wave source term is large. We infer that the short waves in the baroclinically unstable fluid are freely propagating inertia–gravity waves generated by spontaneous adjustment of the large-scale flow.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical and Physical Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:1919
Uncontrolled Keywords:inertia-gravity waves; baroclinic instability; geostrophic adjustment; jet-stream; f-plane; excitation; systems; chaos; turbulence; radiation
Publisher:Cambridge University Press

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