A generalised-Lagrangian-mean model of the interactions between near-inertial waves and mean flow

Jin-Han Xie, Jacques Vanneste

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Wind forcing of the ocean generates a spectrum of inertia-gravity waves that is sharply peaked near the local inertial (or Coriolis) frequency. The corresponding near-inertial waves (NIWs) are highly energetic and play a significant role in the slow, large-scale dynamics of the ocean. To analyse this role, we develop a new model of the nondissipative interactions between NIWs and balanced motion. The model is derived using the generalised-Lagrangian-mean (GLM) framework (specifically, the glm variant of Soward & Roberts (2010)), taking advantage of the time-scale separation between the two types of motion to average over the short NIW period.
We combine Salmon's (2013) variational formulation of GLM with Whitham averaging to obtain a system of equations governing the joint evolution of NIWs and mean flow. Assuming that the mean flow is geostrophically balanced reduces this system to a simple model coupling Young & Ben Jelloul's (1997) equation for NIWs with a modified quasi-geostrophic equation. In this coupled model, the mean flow affects the NIWs through advection and refraction; conversely, the NIWs affect the mean flow by modifying the potential-vorticity inversion - the relation between advected potential vorticity and advecting mean velocity - through a quadratic wave term, consistent with the GLM results of Buhler & McIntyre (1998).
The coupled model is Hamiltonian and its conservation laws, for wave action and energy in particular, prove illuminating: on their basis, we identify a new interaction mechanism whereby NIWs forced at large scales extract energy from the balanced flow as their horizontal scale is reduced by differential advection and refraction so that their potential energy increases. A rough estimate suggests that this mechanism could provide a significant sink of energy for mesoscale motion and play a part in the global energetics of the ocean.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)143-169
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date4 Jun 2015
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2015


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