Barotropic Vortex Pairs on a Rotating Sphere

DiBattista, Mark T.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

Using a barotropic model in spherical geometry, we construct new solutions for steadily travelling vortex pairs and study their stability properties. We consider pairs composed of both point and finite-area vortices, and we represent the rotating background with a set of zonal strips of uniform vorticity. After constructing the solution for a single point-vortex pair, we embed it in a rotating background, and determine the equilibrium configurations that travel at constant speed without changing shape. For equilibrium solutions, we find that the stability depends on the relative strength (which may be positive or negative) of the vortex pair to the rotating background: eastward-travelling pairs are always stable, while westward-travelling pairs are unstable when their speeds approach that of the linear Rossby–Haurwitz waves. This finding also applies (with minor differences) to the case when the vortices are of finite area; in that case we find that, in addition to the point-vortex-like instabilities, the rotating background excites some finite-area instabilities for vortex pairs that would otherwise be stable. As for practical applications to blocking events, for which the slow westward pairs are relevant, our results indicate that free barotropic solutions are highly unstable, and thus suggest that forcing mechanisms must play an important role in maintaining atmospheric blocking events.


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Journal of Fluid Mechanics

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