The Vertical Structure of the Eddy Diffusivity and the Equilibration of the Extratropical Atmosphere

(Jansen, M and Ferrari, R), Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences, vol. 70, pp. pages, 2013.


Observations suggest that the time-and zonal-mean state of the extratropical atmosphere adjusts itself such that the so-called “criticality parameter” (which relates the vertical stratification to the horizontal temperature gradient) is close to one. T. Schneider has argued that the criticality parameter is kept near one by a constraint on the zonal momentum budget in primitive equations. The constraint relies on a diffusive closure for the eddy flux of potential vorticity (PV) with an eddy diffusivity that is approximately constant in the vertical. The diffusive closure for the eddy PV flux, however, depends crucially on the definition of averages along isentropes that intersect the surface. It is argued that the definition favored by Schneider results in eddy PV fluxes whose physical interpretation is unclear and that do not satisfy the proposed closure in numerical simulations. An alternative definition, first proposed by T.-Y. Koh and R. A. Plumb, is preferred. A diffusive closure for the eddy PV flux under this definition is supported by analysis of the PV variance budget and can be used to close the near-surface zonal momentum budget in idealized numerical simulations. Following this approach, it is shown that O(1) criticalities are obtained if the eddy diffusivity decays from its surface value to about zero over the depth of the troposphere, which is likely to be the case in Earth’s atmosphere. Large criticality parameters, however, are possible if the eddy diffusivity decays only weakly in the vertical, consistent with results from quasigeostrophic models. This provides theoretical support for recent numerical studies that have found supercritical mean states in primitive equation models.

doi = 10.1175/jas-d-12-086.1

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