Hydrostatic and geostrophic adjustment in a compressible atmosphere: Initial response and final equilibrium to an instantaneous localized heating

Jeffrey M. Chagnon, Peter R. Bannon

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

17 Citations (SciVal)


The initial and steady-state response of a compressible atmosphere to an instantaneous, localized heat source is investigated analytically. Potential vorticity conservation removes geostrophic and hydrostatic degeneracy and provides a direct method for obtaining the steady-state solution. The heat source produces a vertical potential vorticity dipole that induces a hydrostatically and geostrophically balanced cyclone-anticyclone structure in the final state. For a typical deep mesoscale heating, the net displacements required for the adjustment to the final steady state include a small, O(100 m) ascent of the core of the heated air with weak far-field descent and a large, O(10 km) outward/inward lateral displacement at the top/base of the heating. The heating initially generates available elastic and potential energy. The energy is then exchanged between kinetic, elastic, potential, and acoustic and gravity wave energy. In the final state, after the acoustic and gravity wave energy has dispersed, the remaining energy is partitioned between kinetic, and available potential and elastic energy. The fraction of wave energy increases with increasing horizontal wavenumber. The effect of several vertical boundary conditions is assessed. It is shown that a rigid lid suppresses the vertical expansion of the heated layer and reduces the fraction of wave energy. The impact of the rigid lid on the steady-state solution is maximized for the horizontal wavenumber zero solution and when the heating takes place close to the rigid upper boundary. The compressible solution is used as a prototype for comparing and evaluating several compressibility approximations: the anelastic, pseudo-incompressible, and modified-compressible approximations. The anelastic model omits the available elastic energetics entirely, but the pseudo-incompressible and modified-compressible models omit either its generation or storage. The result is an ambiguous projection of heating energy onto the remaining energy terms. The errors associated with these approximations are only significant on synoptic scales. Furthermore, the modified-compressible set does not conserve potential vorticity globally. The initial response to the heating differs for each approximation. Although the initial compressible response consists of pressure and potential temperature anomalies confined to the heated layer, the modified-compressible atmosphere generates density and potential temperature anomalies but no pressure anomaly. The anelastic atmosphere undergoes an instantaneous acoustic adjustment in which pressure and density anomalies exist inside and outside of the heated region. The pseudo-incompressible atmosphere generates an instantaneous, net divergence characterized by a residual velocity remaining after the heating and an instantaneous pulse in the pressure and velocity fields.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3776-3792
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number24
StatePublished - Dec 15 2001

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


Dive into the research topics of 'Hydrostatic and geostrophic adjustment in a compressible atmosphere: Initial response and final equilibrium to an instantaneous localized heating'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this