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Free Content Baroclinic instability over topography: Unstable at any wave number

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The instability of an inviscid, baroclinic vertically sheared current of uniform potential vorticity, flowing along a uniform topographic slope, becomes linearly unstable at all wave numbers if the flow is in the direction of propagation of topographic waves. The parameter region of instability in the plane of scaled topographic slope versus wave number then extends to arbitrarily large wave numbers at large slopes.

The weakly nonlinear treatment of the problem reveals the existence of a nonlinear enhancement of the instability close to one of the two boundaries of this parametrically narrow unstable region. Because the domain of instability becomes exponentially narrow for large wave numbers, it is unclear how applicable the results of the asymptotic, weakly nonlinear theory are given that it must be limited to a region of small supercriticality.

This question is pursued in that parameter domain through the use of a truncated model in which the approximations of weakly nonlinear theory are avoided. This more complex model demonstrates that the linearly most unstable wave in the narrow wedge in parameter space is nonlinearly stable and that the region of nonlinear destabilization is limited to a tiny region near one of the critical curves rendering both the linear and nonlinear growth essentially negligible.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: January 1, 2016

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  • The Journal of Marine Research, one of the oldest journals in American marine science, publishes peer-reviewed research articles covering a broad array of topics in physical, biological and chemical oceanography. Articles that deal with processes, as well as those that report significant observations, are welcome. Biological studies involving coupling between ecological and physical processes are preferred over those that report systematics. The editors strive always to serve authors and readers in the academic oceanographic community by publishing papers vital to the marine research in the long and rich tradition of the Sears Foundation for Marine Research. We welcome you to the Journal of Marine Research.
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