Gravity Waves Generated by Sheared Potential Vorticity Anomalies

Francois Lott, Riwal Plougonven, Jacques Vanneste

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The gravity waves (GWs) generated by potential vorticity (PV) anomalies in a rotating stratified shear flow are examined under the assumptions of constant vertical shear, two-dimensionality, and unbounded domain. Near a PV anomaly, the associated perturbation is well modeled by quasigeostrophic theory. This is not the case at large vertical distances, however, and in particular beyond the two inertial layers that appear above and below the anomaly; there, the perturbation consists of vertically propagating gravity waves. This structure is described analytically, using an expansion in the continuous spectrum of the singular modes that results from the presence of critical levels.

Several explicit results are obtained. These include the form of the Eliassen-Palm (EP) flux as a function of the Richardson number N-2/Lambda(2), where N is the Brunt-Vaisala frequency and Lambda the vertical shear. Its non-dimensional value is shown to be approximately exp(-pi N/Lambda)/8 in the far-field GW region, approximately twice that between the two inertial layers. These results, which imply substantial wave-flow interactions in the inertial layers, are valid for Richardson numbers larger than 1 and for a large range of PV distributions. In dimensional form they provide simple relationships between the EP fluxes and the large-scale flow characteristics.

As an illustration, the authors consider a PV disturbance with an amplitude of 1 PVU and a depth of 1 km, and estimate that the associated EP flux ranges between 0.1 and 100 mPa for a Richardson number between 1 and 10. These values of the flux are comparable with those observed in the lower stratosphere, which suggests that the mechanism identified in this paper provides a substantial gravity wave source, one that could be parameterized in GCMs.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)157-170
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - Jan 2010


  • Gravity waves
  • Shear structure/flows
  • Potential vorticity
  • Stratosphere
  • Waves
  • atmospheric


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