Harvard Climate Seminar


Tuesday, April 4, 2017, 3:00pm


Haller Hall (Geological Museum 102)
Joe Pedlosky
Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute

"Baroclinic Instability over Topography: Unstable at any wavenumber"

Abstract: The instability of an inviscid, baroclinic vertically sheared current of uniform potential vorticity, flowing along a uniform topographic slope, becomes linearly unstable at all wave numbers if the flow is in the direction of propagation of topographic waves. The parameter region of instability in the plane of scaled topographic slope versus wavenumber then extends to arbitrarily large wavenumbers at large slopes. The weakly nonlinear treatment of the problem reveals the existence of a nonlinear enhancement of the instability close to one of the two boundaries of this parametrically narrow unstable region. Since the domain of instability becomes exponentially narrow for large wavenumber it is unclear how applicable the results of the asymptotic, weakly nonlinear theory is since it must be limited to a region of small supercriticality. This question is pursued in that parameter domain through the use of a truncated model in which the approximations of weakly nonlinear theory are avoided. This more complex model demonstrates that the linearly most unstable wave in the narrow wedge in parameter space is nonlinearly stable and that the region of nonlinear destabilization is limited to a tiny region near one of the critical curves rendering both the linear and nonlinear growth essentially negligible. [Background reading]