Bimodal Behavior in the Zonal Mean Flow of a Baroclinic β-Channel Model

Kravtsov, S.; Robertson, Andrew W.; Ghil, Michael

The dynamical origin of midlatitude zonal-jet variability is examined in a thermally forced, quasigeostrophic, two-layer channel model on a β plane. The model's behavior is studied as a function of the bottom-friction strength. Two distinct zonal-flow states exist at realistic, low, and intermediate values of the bottom drag; these two states are maintained by the eddies and differ mainly in terms of the meridional position of their climatological jets. The system's low-frequency evolution is characterized by irregular transitions between the two states. For a given branch of model solutions, the leading stationary and propagating empirical orthogonal functions are related to eigenmodes of the model's dynamical operator, linearized about the climatological state on this branch. Nonlinear interactions between these modes are instrumental in determining their relative energy level. In particular, the stationary modes' self-interaction is shown to vanish. Thus, these modes do not exchange energy with the mean flow and, consequently, dominate the lowest-frequency behavior in the model. The leading stationary mode resembles the observed annular mode in the Southern Hemisphere. The bimodality is due to nonlinear interactions between nearly equivalent barotropic, stationary, and propagating modes, while the synoptic eddies play a modest role in determining the relative persistence of the two states. The role of synoptic eddies is very substantial only at unrealistically high values of the bottom drag, where they give rise to ultralow frequency variability by modifying the jet in a way that reinforces generation of the eddy field. This type of behavior is related to the presence of a homoclinic orbit in the model's phase space and is not apparent for more realistic, lower values of the bottom drag.



Also Published In

Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences

More About This Work

Academic Units
International Research Institute for Climate and Society
Published Here
August 14, 2012