Potential vorticity fronts and the late-time evolution of large-scale quasi-geostrophic flows

B. H. Burgess*, David Gerard Dritschel

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Downloads (Pure)


The late-time behaviour of freely evolving quasi-geostrophic flows with initial characteristic length scale L0 larger than or equal to the deformation radius LD, L0/LD≥1 , is studied. At late time the flows are dominated by large multi-level vortices consisting of ascending terraces of well-mixed potential vorticity (PV), i.e. PV staircases. We examine how the number of mixed PV levels depends on the initial conditions, in particular L0/LD . For sufficiently large values of L0/LD≈5 , a complete staircase with regular steps forms, but as L0/LD decreases, the staircase becomes more irregular, with fewer mixed levels and the appearance of a large step centred on zero PV, corresponding to large regions of near-zero PV separating the multi-level vortices. This occurs because weak PV features in the initial field with scales smaller than LD undergo filamentation and are coarse-grained away or homogenised. For all values of L0/LD considered, inverse cascades of potential energy commence at sufficiently late times. The onset of these cascades, even when the flow is initialised well within the ‘asymptotic model’ (AM) regime, suggests that the AM regime is not self-consistent: when potential vorticity fronts are well-resolved, frontal dynamics eventually drive ongoing flow evolution.
Original languageEnglish
Article numberA40
Number of pages16
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Early online date1 Apr 2022
Publication statusPublished - 25 May 2022


  • Geostrophic turbulence
  • Quasi-geostrophic flows
  • Shallow water flows


Dive into the research topics of 'Potential vorticity fronts and the late-time evolution of large-scale quasi-geostrophic flows'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this