On the Discrete Normal Modes of Quasigeostrophic Theory

Publication Year


Journal Article

The discrete baroclinic modes of quasigeostrophic theory are incomplete and the incompleteness manifests as a loss of information in the projection process. The incompleteness of the baroclinic modes is related to the presence of two previously unnoticed stationary step-wave solutions of the Rossby wave problem with flat boundaries. These step-waves are the limit of surface quasigeostrophic waves as boundary buoyancy gradients vanish. A complete normal mode basis for quasigeostrophic theory is obtained by considering the traditional Rossby wave problem with prescribed buoyancy gradients at the lower and upper boundaries. The presence of these boundary buoyancy gradients activates the previously inert boundary degrees of freedom. These Rossby waves have several novel properties such as the presence of multiple modes with no internal zeros, a finite number of modes with negative norms, and their vertical structures form a basis capable of representing any quasigeostrophic state with a differentiable series expansion. Using this complete basis, we are able to obtain a differentiable series expansion to the potential vorticity of Bretherton (with Dirac delta contributions). We also examine the quasigeostrophic vertical velocity modes and derive a complete basis for such modes as well. A natural application of these modes is the development of a weakly non-linear wave-interaction theory of geostrophic turbulence that takes topography into account.

Journal of Physical Oceanography
Date Published
February 2022
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