A two-layer quasigeostrophic model is used to study the equilibration of baroclinic waves. In this model, if the background flow is relaxed toward a jetlike profile, a finite-amplitude baroclinic wave solution can be realized in both supercritical and subcritical regions of the model's parameter space. Analyses of the model equations and numerical model calculations indicate that the finite-amplitude wave equilibration hinges on the breaking of Rossby waves before they reach their critical latitude. This "jetward" wave breaking results in an increase in the upper-layer wave generation and a reduction in the vertical phase tilt. This change in the phase tilt has a substantial impact on the Ekman pumping, as it weakens the damping on the lower-layer wave for some parameter settings and enables the Ekman pumping to serve as a source of wave growth at other settings. Together, these processes can account for the O(1)-amplitude wave equilibration. From a potential vorticity (PV) perspective, the wave breaking reduces the meridional scale of the upper-layer eddy PV flux, which destabilizes the mean flow. This is followed by a strengthening of the lower-layer eddy PV flux, which weakens the lower-layer PV gradient and constrains the growth of the lower-layer eddy PV. The same jetward wave breaking focuses the upper-layer PV flux toward the jet center where the upper-layer PV gradient is greatest. This results in an intensification of the upper-layer eddy PV relative to lower-layer eddy PV. Because of this large ratio, the upper-layer eddy PV plays the primary role in inducing the upper-and lower-layer eddy streamfunction fields, decreasing the vertical phase tilt. As a result, the Ekman pumping on the eddies is weakened, and for some parameter settings the Ekman pumping can even act as a wave source, contributing toward O(1)-amplitude wave equilibration. By reducing the horizontal shear of the zonal wind, the same wave breaking process weakens the barotropic decay, which also contributes to the wave amplification.
All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes
- Atmospheric Science