Articles | Volume 27, issue 11
09 Nov 2009
 | 09 Nov 2009

Instability of coupled gravity-inertial-Rossby waves on a β-plane in solar system atmospheres

J. F. McKenzie

Abstract. This paper provides an analysis of the combined theory of gravity-inertial-Rossby waves on a β-plane in the Boussinesq approximation. The wave equation for the system is fifth order in space and time and demonstrates how gravity-inertial waves on the one hand are coupled to Rossby waves on the other through the combined effects of β, the stratification characterized by the Väisälä-Brunt frequency N, the Coriolis frequency f at a given latitude, and vertical propagation which permits buoyancy modes to interact with westward propagating Rossby waves. The corresponding dispersion equation shows that the frequency of a westward propagating gravity-inertial wave is reduced by the coupling, whereas the frequency of a Rossby wave is increased. If the coupling is sufficiently strong these two modes coalesce giving rise to an instability. The instability condition translates into a curve of critical latitude Θc versus effective equatorial rotational Mach number M, with the region below this curve exhibiting instability. "Supersonic" fast rotators are unstable in a narrow band of latitudes around the equator. For example Θc~12° for Jupiter. On the other hand slow "subsonic" rotators (e.g. Mercury, Venus and the Sun's Corona) are unstable at all latitudes except very close to the poles where the β effect vanishes. "Transonic" rotators, such as the Earth and Mars, exhibit instability within latitudes of 34° and 39°, respectively, around the Equator. Similar results pertain to Oceans. In the case of an Earth's Ocean of depth 4km say, purely westward propagating waves are unstable up to 26° about the Equator. The nonlinear evolution of this instability which feeds off rotational energy and gravitational buoyancy may play an important role in atmospheric dynamics.