Available potential vorticity and wave-averaged quasi-geostrophic flow

Wagner, GL, Young WR.  2015.  Available potential vorticity and wave-averaged quasi-geostrophic flow. Journal of Fluid Mechanics. 785:401-424.

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adjustment, flows, geophysical and geological flows, internal gravity-waves, internal waves, mean flow, model, nonlinear-theory, quasi-geostrophic


We derive a wave-averaged potential vorticity equation describing the evolution of strongly stratified, rapidly rotating quasi-geostrophic (QG) flow in a field of inertia-gravity internal waves. The derivation relies on a multiple-time-scale asymptotic expansion of the Eulerian Boussinesq equations. Our result confirms and extends the theory of Buhler & McIntyre (J. Fluid Mech., vol. 354, 1998, pp. 609-646) to non-uniform stratification with buoyancy frequency N(z) and therefore non-uniform background potential vorticity f(0)N(2)(z), and does not require spatial-scale separation between waves and balanced flow. Our interest in non-uniform background potential vorticity motivates the introduction of a new quantity: 'available potential vorticity' (APV). Like Ertel potential vorticity, APV is exactly conserved on fluid particles. But unlike Ertel potential vorticity, linear internal waves have no signature in the Eulerian APV field, and the standard QG potential vorticity is a simple truncation of APV for low Rossby number. The definition of APV exactly eliminates the Ertel potential vorticity signal associated with advection of a non-uniform background state, thereby isolating the part of Ertel potential vorticity available for balanced-flow evolution. The effect of internal waves on QG flow is expressed concisely in a wave-averaged contribution to the materially conserved QG potential vorticity. We apply the theory by computing the wave-induced QG flow for a vertically propagating wave packet and a mode-one wave field, both in vertically bounded domains.