Nonlinear generation of long waves and the reversal of eddy momentum fluxes in a two-layer quasigeostrophic model

Tsung Lin Hsieh, Chiung Yin Chang, Isaac M. Held, Pablo Zurita-Gotor

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

3 Scopus citations


Although classical theories of midlatitude momentum fluxes focus on the wave-mean flow interaction, wave-wave interactions may be important for generating long waves. It is shown in this study that this nonlinear generation has implications for eddy momentum fluxes in some regimes. Using a two-layer quasigeostrophic model of a baroclinic jet on a b plane, statistically steady states are explored in which the vertically integrated eddy momentum flux is divergent at the center of the jet, rather than convergent as in Earthlike climates. One moves toward this less familiar climate from more Earthlike settings by reducing either b, frictional drag, or the width of the baroclinic zone, or by increasing the upper bound of resolvable wavelengths by lengthening the zonal channel. Even in Earthlike settings, long waves diverge momentum from the jet, but they are too weak to compete with short unstable waves that converge momentum. We argue that long waves are generated by breaking of short unstable waves near their critical latitudes, where long waves converge momentum while diverging momentum at the center of the jet. Quasi-linear models with no wave-wave interaction can qualitatively capture the Earthlike regime but not the regime with momentum flux divergence at the center of the jet, because the nonlinear wave breaking and long-wave generation processes are missing. Therefore, a more comprehensive theory of atmospheric eddy momentum fluxes should take into account the nonlinear dynamics of long waves.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3525-3536
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number11
StatePublished - Nov 2021

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Momentum
  • Quasigeostrophic models
  • Rossby waves


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