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Lagrangian accelerations in geostrophic turbulence

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  10 July 1998

Laboratoire de Physique des Oceans, IFREMER, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France
Department of Atmospheric Sciences, UCLA Los Angeles, CA 90024, USA
Laboratoire de Physique des Oceans, IFREMER, BP 70, 29280 Plouzané, France


A distinctive property of Lagrangian accelerations in geostrophic turbulence is that they are governed by the large and intermediate scales of the flow, both in time and space, so that the inertial part of the dynamics plays a much larger role than in three-dimensional turbulence where viscous effects are stronger. For the case of geostrophic turbulence on a β-plane, three terms contribute to the Lagrangian accelerations: the ageostrophic pressure gradient which often is the largest term, a meridional acceleration due to the β-effect, and an acceleration due to horizontally divergent ageostrophic motions. Both their spectral characteristics and patterns in physical space are studied in this paper. In particular the total accelerations field has an inertial spectrum slope which is identical to the geostrophic velocity field inertial slope.

The accelerations gradient tensor is shown to govern the topology of quasi-geostrophic stirring and transport properties. Its positive eigenvalues locate accurately the position of extrema of potential vorticity gradients. The three-dimensional distribution of tracer gradients is such that the vertical distribution is entirely constrained by the horizontal one, while the reverse is not true. We make explicit analytically their dependence on the three-dimensional accelerations gradient.

Research Article
© 1998 Cambridge University Press

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