The control of surface friction on the scales of baroclinic eddies in a homogeneous quasigeostrophic two-layer model

Chiung Yin Chang, Isaac M. Held

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13 Scopus citations


In idealized models of the extratropical troposphere, both β and surface friction can control the equilibrated scales of baroclinic eddies by stopping the inverse cascade. A scaling theory on how surface friction alone sets these scales was proposed by Held in 1999 in the case of a quadratic drag law. However, the theory breaks down when friction is modeled by linear damping, and there are other reasons to suspect that it is oversimplified. An ideal system to test the theory is the homogeneous two-layer quasigeostrophic model in the β = 0 limit with quadratic damping. This study investigates some numerical simulations of the model to analyze two causes of the theory's breakdown. They are 1) the asymmetry between two layers due to confinement of friction to the lower layer and 2) deviation from a spectrally local inverse energy cascade due to the spread of wavenumbers over which energy is input into the barotropic mode. The former is studied by comparing the simulations with drag appearing asymmetrically or symmetrically between the two layers. The latter is addressed with a heuristic modification of the theory. A regime where eddies equilibrate without an inverse cascade is also examined. A comparison is then made between quadratic and linear drag simulations. The connection to a competing theory based on the dynamics of equivalent barotropic vortices with thermal signatures is further discussed. Finally, we present an example of an inhomogeneous statistically steady state to argue that the diffusivity obtained from the homogeneous model has relevance to more realistic configurations.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1627-1643
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number6
StatePublished - Jun 1 2019
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Eddies
  • Fluxes
  • Quasigeostrophic models
  • Turbulence


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