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The three-dimensional vortical nature of atmospheric and oceanic turbulent flows

Dritschel, D. G., de la Torre Juárez, M. and Ambaum, M. H. P. (1999) The three-dimensional vortical nature of atmospheric and oceanic turbulent flows. Physics of Fluids, 11 (6). pp. 1512-1520. ISSN 1070-6631

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1063/1.870014


Using a novel numerical method at unprecedented resolution, we demonstrate that structures of small to intermediate scale in rotating, stratified flows are intrinsically three-dimensional. Such flows are characterized by vortices (spinning volumes of fluid), regions of large vorticity gradients, and filamentary structures at all scales. It is found that such structures have predominantly three-dimensional dynamics below a horizontal scale LLR, where LR is the so-called Rossby radius of deformation, equal to the characteristic vertical scale of the fluid H divided by the ratio of the rotational and buoyancy frequencies f/N. The breakdown of two-dimensional dynamics at these scales is attributed to the so-called "tall-column instability" [D. G. Dritschel and M. de la Torre Juárez, J. Fluid. Mech. 328, 129 (1996)], which is active on columnar vortices that are tall after scaling by f/N, or, equivalently, that are narrow compared with LR. Moreover, this instability eventually leads to a simple relationship between typical vertical and horizontal scales: for each vertical wave number (apart from the vertically averaged, barotropic component of the flow) the average horizontal wave number is equal to f/N times the vertical wave number. The practical implication is that three-dimensional modeling is essential to capture the behavior of rotating, stratified fluids. Two-dimensional models are not valid for scales below LR. ©1999 American Institute of Physics.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Faculty of Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:4448
Uncontrolled Keywords:atmospheric turbulence, geophysical fluid dynamics, stratified flow, vortices, oceanography, turbulence
Publisher:American Institute of Physics

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