Results are presented of an experimental study on the transition to geostrophic turbulence, and the detailed behaviour within the turbulence regime, in a rotating, laterally heated annulus of fluid. Both spatial and temporal characteristics are examined, and the results are presented in the form of wavenumber and frequency spectra as a function of a single external parameter, the rotation rate.
The transition to turbulence proceeds in a sequence of steps from azimuthally symmetric (no waves present) to chaotic flow. The sequence includes doubly periodic flow (amplitude vacillation), semiperiodic flow (structural vacillation), and a transition zone where the characteristics undergo a gradual change to chaotic behaviour. The spectra in the transition zone are characterized by a gradual merging of the background signal with the spectral peaks defining regular wave flow as the rotation rate is increased.
Within the geostrophic turbulence regime, the wavenumber spectra are characterized by a broad peak at the baroclinic scale and a power dependence of energy density on wavenumber at the high-wavenumber end of the spectrum. Our data reveal a significant dependence of the slope on the thermal Rossby number, ranging from −4.8 at RoT = 0.17 to −2.4 at RoT = 0.02. The frequency spectra also show a power dependence of the energy density on frequency at the high-frequency end of the Spectrum. We find a nominal −4 power which does not appear to be sensitive to changes in Rossby or Taylor number.