We investigate the asymptotic properties of inertial modes confined in a spherical shell when viscosity tends to zero. We first consider the mapping made by the characteristics of the hyperbolic equation (Poincaré's equation) satisfied by inviscid solutions. Characteristics are straight lines in a meridional section of the shell, and the mapping shows that, generically, these lines converge towards a periodic orbit which acts like an attractor (the associated Lyapunov exponent is always negative or zero). We show that these attractors exist in bands of frequencies the size of which decreases with the number of reflection points of the attractor. At the bounding frequencies the associated Lyapunov exponent is generically either zero or minus infinity. We further show that for a given frequency the number of coexisting attractors is finite.
We then examine the relation between this characteristic path and eigensolutions of the inviscid problem and show that in a purely two-dimensional problem, convergence towards an attractor means that the associated velocity field is not square-integrable. We give arguments which generalize this result to three dimensions. Then, using a sphere immersed in a fluid filling the whole space, we study the critical latitude singularity and show that the velocity field diverges as 1/√d, d being the distance to the characteristic grazing the inner sphere.
We then consider the viscous problem and show how viscosity transforms singularities into internal shear layers which in general reveal an attractor expected at the eigenfrequency of the mode. Investigating the structure of these shear layers, we find that they are nested layers, the thinnest and most internal layer scaling with E1/3, E being the Ekman number; for this latter layer, we give its analytical form and show its similarity to vertical 1/3-shear layers of steady flows. Using an inertial wave packet travelling around an attractor, we give a lower bound on the thickness of shear layers and show how eigenfrequencies can be computed in principle. Finally, we show that as viscosity decreases, eigenfrequencies tend towards a set of values which is not dense in [0, 2Ω], contrary to the case of the full sphere (Ω is the angular velocity of the system).
Hence, our geometrical approach opens the possibility of describing the eigenmodes and eigenvalues for astrophysical/geophysical Ekman numbers (10−10–10−20), which are out of reach numerically, and this for a wide class of containers.
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