On nonlinear baroclinic waves and adjustment of pancake dynamics

A. Babin, Alex Mahalov, B. Nicolaenko

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

34 Scopus citations


Three-dimensional nonhydrostatic Euler-Boussinesq equations are studied for Bu = O(1) flows as well as in the asymptotic regime of strong stratification and weak rotation. Reduced prognostic equations for ageostrophic components (divergent velocity potential and geostrophic departure/thermal wind imbalance) are analyzed. We describe classes of nonlinear anisotropic ageostrophic baroclinic waves which are generated by the strong nonlinear interactions between the quasi-geostrophic modes and inertio-gravity waves. In the asymptotic regime of strong stratification and weak rotation we show how switching on weak rotation triggers frontogenesis. The mechanism of the front formation is contraction in the horizontal dimension balanced by vertical shearing through coupling of large horizontal and small vertical scales by weak rotation. Vertical slanting of these fronts is proportional to √μ where μ is the ratio of the Coriolis and Brunt-Väisälä parameters. These fronts select slow baroclinic waves through nonlinear adjustment of the horizontal scale to the vertical scale by weak rotation, and are the envelope of inertio-gravity waves. Mathematically, this is generated by asymptotic hyperbolic systems describing the strong nonlinear interactions between waves and potential vorticity dynamics. This frontogenesis yields vertical "gluing" of pancake dynamics, in contrast to the independent dynamics of horizontal layers in strongly stratified turbulence without rotation.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)215-235
Number of pages21
JournalTheoretical and Computational Fluid Dynamics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 1998

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Engineering(all)
  • Fluid Flow and Transfer Processes


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