Nonlinear adjustment of a localized layer of buoyant, uniform potential vorticity fluid against a vertical wall

  • Helfrich K
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The nonlinear evolution of a localized layer of buoyant, uniform potential vorticity fluid with depth H, width w0and length L released adjacent to a wall in a rotating system is studied using reduced-gravity shallow-water theory and numerical modeling. In the interior, far from the two ends of the layer, the initial adjustment gives, after ignoring inertia-gravity waves, a geostrophic flow of width w∞and layer velocities parallel to the wall directed in the downstream direction (defined by Kelvin wave propagation). This steady geostrophic flow serves as the initial condition for a semigeostrophic solution using the method of characteristics. At the downstream end, the theory shows that the fluid intrudes along the wall as rarefaction terminating at a nose of vanishing width and depth. However, in a real fluid the presence of the lower layer leads to a blunt gravity current head. The theory is amended by introducing a gravity current head condition that has a blunt bore joined to the rarefaction by a uniform gravity current. The upstream termination of the initial layer produces a Kelvin rarefaction that propagates downstream, decreasing the layer depth along the wall, and initiating upstream flow adjacent to the wall. The theoretical solution compares favorably to numerical solutions of the reduced-gravity shallow-water equations. The agreement between theory and numerical solutions occurs regardless of whether the numerical runs are initiated with an adjusted geostrophic solution or with the release of a stagnant layer. The latter case excites inertia-gravity waves that, despite their large amplitude and breaking, do not significantly affect the evolution of the geostrophic flow. At times beyond the validity of the semigeostrophic theory, the numerical solutions evolve into a stationary array of vortices. The vortex formation can be interpreted as the finite-amplitude manifestation of a linear instability of the new flow established by the passage of the Kelvin wave. The Kelvin wave ultimately reduces the flux into the downstream gravity current and the vortices retain buoyant in the neighborhood of the initial layer. © 2006 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.

Author-supplied keywords

  • Geostrophic adjustment
  • Gravity currents
  • Kelvin waves
  • Nonlinear waves
  • Vortices

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  • Karl R. Helfrich

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