The stability of filamentary vorticity in two-dimensional geophysical vortex-dynamics models

D. W. Waugh, D. G. Dritschel

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The linear stability of filaments or strips of ‘potential’ vorticity in a background shear flow is investigated for a class of two-dimensional, inviscid, non-divergent models having a linear inversion relation between stream function and potential vorticity. In general, the potential vorticity is not simply the Laplacian of the stream function — the case which has received the greatest attention historically. More general inversion relationships between stream function and potential vorticity are geophysically motivated and give an impression of how certain classic results, such as the stability of strips of vorticity, hold under more general circumstances. In all models, a strip of potential vorticity is unstable in the absence of a background shear flow. Imposing a shear flow that reverses the total shear across the strip, however, brings about stability, independent of the Green-function inversion operator that links the stream function to the potential vorticity. But, if the Green— function inversion operator has a sufficiently short interaction range, the strip can also be stabilized by shear having the same sense as the shear of the strip. Such stabilization by ‘co-operative’ shear does not occur when the inversion operator is the inverse Laplacian. Nonlinear calculations presented show that there is only slight disruption to the strip for substantially less adverse shear than necessary for linear stability, while for co-operative shear, there is major disruption to the strip. It is significant that the potential vorticity of the imposed flow necessary to create shear of a given value increases dramatically as the interaction range of the inversion operator decreases, making shear stabilization increasingly less likely. This implies an increased propensity for filaments to ‘roll-up’ into small vortices as the interaction range decreases, a finding consistent with many numerical calculations performed using the quasi-geostrophic model.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)575-598
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jan 1991


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