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Stratification effects on the stability of columnar vortices on the f-plane

  • P. G. POTYLITSIN (a1) and W. R. PELTIER (a1)


We consider the stability with respect to three-dimensional perturbations of columnar vortices on the f-plane and as a function of the strength of a stabilizing density stratification parallel to the axis of the vortex. We seek to understand the dynamics of the processes through which such a vertically oriented barotropic vortex may be destabilized. As models of the basic vorticity distribution we consider both Kelvin–Helmholtz vortices in shear and ‘Kida-like’ vortices in strain. In the case of rotating unstratified flow, an isolated anticyclonic vortex column is shown to be strongly destabilized to three-dimensional perturbations by small values of the background rotation, while rapid rotation strongly stabilizes both anticyclonic and cyclonic columns, as expected on the basis of the Taylor–Proudman theorem. The dominant instability mechanism which drives the destruction of anticyclonic vortices in the presence of slow background rotation may be understood to constitute a three-dimensional inertial (centrifugal) instability. Through explicit analysis we show that sufficiently strong density stratification stabilizes the two-dimensional columnar structures to disruption by this and additional modes of instability that exist even in the absence of rotation. We furthermore demonstrate that there exists a second fundamental mode of instability in the presense of background rotation which affects only anticyclonic vortex columns whose cross-sections are elliptical. Only when the ellipticity of the vortex is sufficiently high does this mode dominate the centrifugal mode. The process whereby anticyclonic vortices may be selectively destroyed appears to provide a possible explanation of an asymmetry that is sometimes observed to be characteristic of the atmospheric von Kármán vortex streets that are observed in the lee of oceanic islands. The anticyclonic branch of the street often seems to be absent. More generally, the centrifugal mechanism for the selective destruction of anticyclones discussed herein very clearly explains a number of recent results obtained from both laboratory experiments and numerical simulations.


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Stratification effects on the stability of columnar vortices on the f-plane

  • P. G. POTYLITSIN (a1) and W. R. PELTIER (a1)


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