Published online by Cambridge University Press: 25 February 1998
We investigate the evolution of nearby like-sign vortices whose centres are at different vertical levels in a stably stratified rotating fluid. We employ two differently singularized representations of the potential vorticity distribution in the quasi-geostrophic equations (QG), in order to elucidate the pair-interaction behaviour previously seen in non-singular QG numerical solutions. The first is an analytically tractable conservative (Hamiltonian) elliptical-moment model (EM) for thin-core vortices, which exhibits a regime of very strong horizontal elongation of a vortex in response to the strain induced by its partner. We interpret this as an early evolutionary stage towards the irreversible dissipative merger and alignment interactions. This interpretation is strengthened by weakly dissipative numerical solutions of a thin-core contour-dynamics model (CD), which exhibit even further progress towards the completion of these vortex interactions in the same regime.
In the EM model we classify the co-rotating stationary states which exist always for vertically offset thin-core vortices. However, the mutual strain field among the vortices cannot be balanced by co-rotation in a weakly elongated stationary state for a certain class of neighbouring, but substantially non-aligned, vortex configurations, and our interpretive assumption is that such configurations will rapidly evolve in non-singular QG solutions towards a more aligned configuration through significantly non-conservative reorganizations of the potential vorticity field. Both the EM and CD models show qualitatively similar regime boundaries between evolutions with weakly and strongly deformed vortices. In particular, there is a fairly close correspondence between the occurrence of strong vortex elongation in the EM solutions and significant filamentation and splitting in the CD solutions.