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The computation of reference state and APE production by diabatic processes in an idealised tropical cyclone

Wong, K. C., Tailleux, R. ORCID: and Gray, S. L. ORCID: (2016) The computation of reference state and APE production by diabatic processes in an idealised tropical cyclone. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 142 (700). pp. 2646-2657. ISSN 1477-870X

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To link to this item DOI: 10.1002/qj.2854


This study investigates the energetics of tropical cyclone intensification using the Available Potential Energy (APE) theory. While the idea that tropical cyclones (TCs) intensify as the result of the conversion into kinetic energy of the available potential energy (APE) generated by the release of latent heat extracted from the warm tropical ocean surface is now well accepted, its rigorous theoretical formalisation has remained elusive owing to the complexity of constructing a suitable reference state for defining and quantifying APE in a moist atmosphere. Yet, the construction of such a reference state is a key fundamental issue, because the magnitude of the APE reservoir and of its temporal evolution, as well as the values of the thermodynamic efficiencies controlling the rate at which diabatic processes generate or destroy APE, depend on its specification. This issue is illustrated in the idealised context of an axisymmetric TC model by comparing the energetics of TC intensification obtained by using two different sorting-based approaches to compute the reference state defining APE. It is found that the thermodynamic efficiency controlling the APE generation by surface latent heat fluxes is larger when the reference state is constructed using a ‘top-down’ sorting method, as the APE thus defined absorbs all the CAPE present in the system. However, because a large fraction of the overall CAPE is never released during the TC’s lifetime (e.g. in regions dominated by subsidence), there is a better agreement between the production of APE by surface fluxes and its subsequent conversion into kinetic energy when a ‘bottom-up’ reference state is used. These results suggest that contrary to what is usually assumed, the reference state in APE theory should be constructed to minimise, rather than maximise, the total APE, so that the introduction of dynamically inert APE is minimised.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Interdisciplinary Research Centres (IDRCs) > Walker Institute
Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:65918
Publisher:Royal Meteorological Society


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