The merger of two three-dimensional quasi-geostrophic baroclinic tripolar eddies

Jean Noel Reinaud, Xavier Carton

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


We investigate the strong interaction between two baroclinic tripolar eddies in a three-dimensional, rapidly- rotating, continuously stratified flow under the quasi-geostrophic approximation. Each tripolar eddy consists of an anticyclonic central vortex with two oblate cyclonic vortices located above and below the anticyclone. The interaction depends on the vertical and horizontal offsets between the two tripolar eddies. For small and low PV oblate cyclones, each tripolar eddy alone is only weakly unstable to a baroclinic mode. The instability puts the three vortices out of alignment. Most of the eddy however survives the instability. When two tripolar eddies interact, their constituent vortices may merge. Merger occurs when the eddies are close enough together, and shows similarities with the merger of monopolar vortices. Vertically separated eddies do not align vertically. This suggests the importance of an external flow for the alignment, observed in the oceans, to occur. We finally show that the interaction between two tripolar eddies with intense oblate cyclones is very different and show similarities with the dynamics of dipolar baroclinic eddies known as hetons.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)523-550
Number of pages28
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number5-6
Early online date26 Feb 2021
Publication statusPublished - 2021


  • Quasi-geostrophy
  • Vortex interactions
  • Vortex merger


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