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?The Role of Curvature in Modifying Frontal Instabilities. Part I: Review of Theory and Presentation of a Nondimensional Instability Criterion

Abstract : In this study, we examine the role of curvature in modifying frontal stability. We first evaluate the classical criterion that the Coriolis parameter f multiplied by the Ertel potential vorticity (PV) q is positive for stable flow and that instability is possible when this quantity is negative. The first portion of this statement can be deduced from Ertel's PV theorem, assuming an initially positive fq. Moreover, the full statement is implicit in the governing equation for the mean geostrophic flow, as the discriminant, fq, changes sign. However, for curved fronts in cyclogeostrophic or gradient wind balance (GWB), an additional term enters the discriminant owing to conservation of absolute angular momentum L. The resulting expression, (1 + Cu)fq < 0 or Lq < 0, where Cu is a nondimensional number quantifying the curvature of the flow, simultaneously generalizes Rayleigh's criterion by accounting for baroclinicity and Hoskins's criterion by accounting for centrifugal effects. In particular, changes in the front's vertical shear and stratification owing to curvature tilt the absolute vorticity vector away from its thermal wind state; in an effort to conserve the product of absolute angular momentum and Ertel PV, this modifies gradient Rossby and Richardson numbers permitted for stable flow. This forms the basis of a nondimensional expression that is valid for inviscid, curved fronts on the f plane, which can be used to classify frontal instabilities. In conclusion, the classical criterion fq < 0 should be replaced by the more general criterion for studies involving gravitational, centrifugal, and symmetric instabilities at curved density fronts. In Part II of the study, we examine interesting outcomes of the criterion applied to low-Richardson-number fronts and vortices in GWB.
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Submitted on : Tuesday, May 31, 2022 - 4:30:14 PM
Last modification on : Wednesday, June 1, 2022 - 3:39:00 AM

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Christian E. Buckingham, Jonathan Gula, Xavier Carton. ?The Role of Curvature in Modifying Frontal Instabilities. Part I: Review of Theory and Presentation of a Nondimensional Instability Criterion. JOURNAL OF PHYSICAL OCEANOGRAPHY, 2021, 51, pp.299-315. ⟨10.1175/JPO-D-19-0265.1⟩. ⟨insu-03683274⟩

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