There exists a well-developed body of theory based on quasi-geostrophic (QG) dynamics that is central to our present understanding of large-scale atmospheric and oceanic dynamics. An important question is the extent to which this body of theory may generalize to more accurate dynamical models. As a first step in this process, we here generalize a set of theoretical results, concerning the evolution of disturbances to prescribed basic states, to semi-geostrophic (SG) dynamics. SG dynamics, like QG dynamics, is a Hamiltonian balanced model whose evolution is described by the material conservation of potential vorticity, together with an invertibility principle relating the potential vorticity to the advecting fields. SG dynamics has features that make it a good prototype for balanced models that are more accurate than QG dynamics.
In the first part of this two-part study, we derive a pseudomomentum invariant for the SG equations, and use it to obtain: (i) linear and nonlinear generalized Charney–Stern theorems for disturbances to parallel flows; (ii) a finite-amplitude local conservation law for the invariant, obeying the group-velocity property in the WKB limit; and (iii) a wave-mean-flow interaction theorem consisting of generalized Eliassen–Palm flux diagnostics, an elliptic equation for the stream-function tendency, and a non-acceleration theorem. All these results are analogous to their QG forms.
The pseudomomentum invariant – a conserved second-order disturbance quantity that is associated with zonal symmetry – is constructed using a variational principle in a similar manner to the QG calculations. Such an approach is possible when the equations of motion under the geostrophic momentum approximation are transformed to isentropic and geostrophic coordinates, in which the ageostrophic advection terms are no longer explicit. Symmetry-related wave-activity invariants such as the pseudomomentum then arise naturally from the Hamiltonian structure of the SG equations. We avoid use of the so-called ‘massless layer’ approach to the modelling of isentropic gradients at the lower boundary, preferring instead to incorporate explicitly those boundary contributions into the wave-activity and stability results. This makes the analogy with QG dynamics most transparent.
This paper treats the f-plane Boussinesq form of SG dynamics, and its recent extension to β-plane, compressible flow by Magnusdottir & Schubert. In the limit of small Rossby number, the results reduce to their respective QG forms. Novel features particular to SG dynamics include apparently unnoticed lateral boundary stability criteria in (i), and the necessity of including additional zonal-mean eddy correlation terms besides the zonal-mean potential vorticity fluxes in the wave-mean-flow balance in (iii).
In the companion paper, wave-activity conservation laws and stability theorems based on the SG form of the pseudoenergy are presented.