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The transition from symmetric to baroclinic instability in the Eady model

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Stamper, MA 
Taylor, JR 


Here, we explore the transition from symmetric instability to ageostrophic baroclinic instability in the Eady model; an idealised representation of a submesoscale mixed layer front. We revisit the linear stability problem considered by Stone (J Atmos Sci, 23, 390–400, (Stone 1966)), Stone (J Atmos Sci, 27, 721–726, (Stone 1970)), Stone (J Atmos Sci, 29, 419–426, (Stone 1972)) with a particular focus on three-dimensional ‘mixed modes’ (which are neither purely symmetric or baroclinic) and find that these modes can have growth rates within just a few percent of the corresponding two-dimensional growth rate maximum. In addition, we perform very high resolution numerical simulations allowing an exploration of the transition from symmetric to baroclinic instability. Three-dimensional mixed modes represent the largest contribution to the turbulent kinetic energy during the transition period between symmetric and baroclinic instability. In each simulation, we see the development of sharp fronts with associated high rms vertical velocities of up to 30 mm s−1. Furthermore, we see significant transfer of energy to small scales, demonstrated by time-integrated mixing and energy dissipation by small-scale three-dimensional turbulence totalling about 30 % of the initial kinetic energy in all cases.



submesoscale, turbulence, instability

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Ocean Dynamics

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Natural Environment Research Council (NE/J010472/1)