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Surface kinetic energy transfer in surface quasi-geostrophic flows

Published online by Cambridge University Press:  14 May 2008

Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Los Angeles CA, USA
Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, IFREMER, CNRS, Plouzané, France
Laboratoire de Physique des Océans, IFREMER, CNRS, Plouzané, France
Laboratoire de Météorologie Dynamique, IPSL, Ecole Normale Supérieure, CNRS, Paris, France
Institute of Geophysics and Planetary Physics, UCLA, Los Angeles CA, USA


The relevance of surface quasi-geostrophic dynamics (SQG) to the upper ocean and the atmospheric tropopause has been recently demonstrated in a wide range of conditions. Within this context, the properties of SQG in terms of kinetic energy (KE) transfers at the surface are revisited and further explored. Two well-known and important properties of SQG characterize the surface dynamics: (i) the identity between surface velocity and density spectra (when appropriately scaled) and (ii) the existence of a forward cascade for surface density variance. Here we show numerically and analytically that (i) and (ii) do not imply a forward cascade of surface KE (through the advection term in the KE budget). On the contrary, advection by the geostrophic flow primarily induces an inverse cascade of surface KE on a large range of scales. This spectral flux is locally compensated by a KE source that is related to surface frontogenesis. The subsequent spectral budget resembles those exhibited by more complex systems (primitive equations or Boussinesq models) and observations, which strengthens the relevance of SQG for the description of ocean/atmosphere dynamics near vertical boundaries. The main weakness of SQG however is in the small-scale range (scales smaller than 20–30 km in the ocean) where it poorly represents the forward KE cascade observed in non-QG numerical simulations.

Copyright © Cambridge University Press 2008

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