Surface Quasi-Geostrophic Dynamics

Isaac M. Held, Stephen T. Garner

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

448 Scopus citations


The dynamics of quasi-geostrophic flow with uniform potential vorticity reduces to the evolution of buoyancy, or potential temperature, on horizontal boundaries. There is a formal resemblance to two-dimensional flow, with surface temperature playing the role of vorticity, but a different relationship between the flow and the advected scalar creates several distinctive features. A series of examples are described which highlight some of these features: the evolution of an elliptical vortex; the start-up vortex shed by flow over a mountain; the instability of temperature filaments; the ‘edge wave’ critical layer; and mixing in an overturning edge wave. Characteristics of the direct cascade of the tracer variance to small scales in homogeneous turbulence, as well as the inverse energy cascade, are also described. In addition to its geophysical relevance, the ubiquitous generation of secondary instabilities and the possibility of finite-time collapse make this system a potentially important, numerically tractable, testbed for turbulence theories.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1-20
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Jan 1995
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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