On the Mechanism Underlying the Spontaneous Emergence of Barotropic Zonal Jets
Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Zonal jets are commonly observed to spontaneously emerge in a b-plane channel from a background of turbulence that is sustained in a statistical steady state by homogeneous stochastic excitation and dissipation of vorticity. The mechanism for jet formation is examined in this work within the statistical wave-mean flow interaction framework of stochastic structural stability theory (SSST) that makes predictions for the emergence of zonal jets in b-plane turbulence. Using the coupled dynamical
... oupled dynamical SSST system that governs the joint evolution of the second-order statistics and the mean flow, the structural stability of the spatially homogeneous statistical equilibrium with no mean zonal jets is studied. It is shown that close to the structural stability boundary, the eddy-mean flow dynamics can be split into two competing processes. The first, which is shearing of the eddies by the local shear described by Orr dynamics in a b plane, is shown in the limit of infinitesimal shear to lead to the formation of jets. The second, which is momentum flux divergence resulting from lateral wave propagation on the nonuniform local mean vorticity gradient, is shown to oppose jet formation. The upgradient momentum fluxes due to shearing of the eddies are shown to act exactly as negative viscosity for an anisotropic forcing and as negative hyperviscosity for isotropic forcing. The downgradient fluxes due to wave flux divergence are shown to act hyperdiffusively.