Stability of baroclinic vortices on the β plane and implications for transport

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This paper explores stability of and transport by baroclinic vortices on the β plane using a two-layer, quasigeostrophic model. The study adapts a wave-mean flow formalism and examines interactions between the axisymmetric flow ("the vortex") and residuals ("the waves"). Unlike baroclinically unstable vortices on the f plane, such vortices on the β plane can be also vulnerable to barotropic instability as revealed by the globally integrated energy balance analysis. The spatial structure of energy fluxes shows the energy leakage inside the vortex core when its breakdown occurs. Mixing by stable and unstable vortical flows is quantified through the computation of finite-time Lyapunov exponent (FTLE) maps. Depending on the strength of wave radiation, the upper-layer FTLE maps of stable vortices show either an annulus or volute ring of vigorous mixing inside the vortex interior. This ring region is disrupted when the vortex becomes unstable. Both stable and unstable vortices show the wavy patterns of FTLE in the near and far fields. Despite the fact that the initial vortex resides in the top layer only, significant FTLE patterns are observed in the deep layer at later times. Lagrangian analysis of the vortex-induced change of large-scale tracer gradient demonstrates significant effects of vortex instability in the top layer and the importance of the wavelike anomalies in the bottom layer.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3245-3262
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Physical Oceanography
Issue number11
StatePublished - 2016


  • Stability
  • Transport
  • Vortices

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Oceanography


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