Models of interacting pairs of thin, quasi-geostrophic vortices: steady-state solutions and nonlinear stability

Matteo Bersanelli, David G. Dritschel, Carlo Lancellotti, Andrew C. Poje

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We study pairwise interactions of elliptical quasi-geostrophic vortices as the limiting case of vanishingly thin uniform potential vorticity ellipsoids. In this limit, the product of the vertical extent of the ellipsoid and the potential vorticity within it is held fixed to a finite non-zero constant. Such elliptical 'lenses' inherit the property that, in isolation, they steadily rotate without changing shape. Here, we use this property to extend both standard moment models and Hamiltonian ellipsoidal models to approximate the dynamical interaction of such elliptical lenses. By neglecting non-elliptical deformations, the simplified models reduce the dynamics to just four degrees of freedom per vortex. For simplicity, we focus on pairwise interactions between identical elliptical vortices initially separated in both the horizontal and vertical directions. The dynamics of the simplified models are compared with the full quasi-geostrophic (QG) dynamics of the system, and show good agreement as expected for sufficiently distant lenses. The results reveal the existence of families of steadily rotating equilibria in the initial horizontal and vertical separation parameter space. For sufficiently large vertical separations, equilibria with varying shape exist for all horizontal separations. Below a critical vertical separation (stretched by the constant ratio of buoyancy to Coriolis frequencies N/f), comparable to the mean radius of either vortex, a gap opens in horizontal separation where no equilibria are possible. Solutions near the edge of this gap are unstable. In the full QG system, equilibria at the edge of the gap exhibit corners (infinite curvature) along their boundaries. Comparisons of the model results with the full nonlinear QG evolution show that the early stages of the instability are captured by the Hamiltonian elliptical model but not by the moment model that inaccurately estimates shorter-range interactions.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)491-517
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number6
Early online date1 Nov 2016
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Vortex patches
  • Surface quasigeostrophy
  • Moment models
  • Equilibrium states
  • Stability


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