Articles | Volume 13, issue 11
30 Nov 1995
30 Nov 1995

Some effects of a mean zonal thermocline gradient on planetary equatorial waves

M. Pontaud and O. Thual

Abstract. Planetary equatorial waves are studied with the shallow water equations in the presence of a mean zonal thermocline gradient. The interactions between this gradient and waves are represented by three non-linear terms in the equations: one in the wind-forcing formulation in the x-momentum equation, and two for the advection of mass and divergence of the velocity field in the continuity equation. When the mean gradient is imposed but small, these three (linearized) terms will perturb the behaviour of the equatorial waves. This paper gives a simple analytic treatment of this problem.

The equatorial Kelvin mode is first solved with all three contributions, using a Wentzel-Kramers-Brillouin method. The Kelvin mode shows a spatial or/and temporal growth when the thermocline gradient is negative which is the usual situation in the equatorial Pacific ocean (deep thermocline in the west and shallow in the east). The more robust and efficient contribution comes from the advection term.

The single effect of the advection of the mean zonal thermocline gradient is then studied for the Kelvin and planetary Rossby modes. The Kelvin mode remains unstable (damped), while the Rossby modes appear damped (unstable) for a negative (positive) thermocline gradient.