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Rossby Solitary Waves in the Presence of a Critical Layer

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This study considers the evolution of weakly nonlinear long Rossby waves in a horizontally sheared zonal current. We consider a stable flow so that the nonlinear time scale is long. These assumptions enable the flow to organize itself into a large-scale coherent structure in the régime where a competition sets in between weak nonlinearity and weak dispersion. This balance is often described by a Korteweg-de-Vries equation. The traditional assumption of a weak amplitude breaks down when the wave speed equals the mean flow velocity at a certain latitude, due to the appearance of a singularity in the leading-order equation, which strongly modifies the flow in a critical layer. Here, nonlinear effects are invoked to resolve this singularity, because the relevant geophysical flows have high Reynolds numbers. Viscosity is introduced in order to render the nonlinear-critical-layer solution unique, but the inviscid limit is eventually taken. By the method of matched asymptotic expansions, this inner flow is matched at the edges of the critical layer with the outer flow. We will show that the critical-layer–induced flow leads to a strong rearrangement of the related streamlines and consequently of the potential-vorticity contours, particularly in the neighborhood of the separatrices between the open and closed streamlines. The symmetry of the critical layer vis-à-vis the critical level is also broken. This theory is relevant for the phenomenon of Rossby wave breaking and eventual saturation into a nonlinear wave. Spatially localized solutions are described by a Korteweg-de-Vries equation, modified by new nonlinear terms; depending on the critical-layer shape, this leads to depression or elevation waves. The additional terms are made necessary at a certain order of the asymptotic expansion while matching the inner flow on the dividing streamlines. The new evolution equation supports a family of solitary waves. In this paper we describe in detail the case of a depression wave, and postpone for further discussion the more complex case of an elevation wave.
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Document Type: Research Article

Affiliations: Department of Mathematical Sciences, Loughborough University, UK

Publication date: May 1, 2007

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