Skip to main content
Open Access Publications from the University of California

On the coupled evolution of oceanic internal waves and quasi-geostrophic flow

  • Author(s): Wagner, Gregory
  • Advisor(s): Young, William R
  • et al.

Oceanic motion outside thin boundary layers is primarily a mixture of quasi-geostrophic flow and internal waves with either near-inertial frequencies or the frequency of the semidiurnal lunar tide. This dissertation seeks a deeper understanding of waves and flow through reduced models that isolate their nonlinear and coupled evolution from the Boussinesq equations. Three physical-space models are developed: an equation that describes quasi-geostrophic evolution in an arbitrary and prescribed field of hydrostatic internal waves; a three-component model that couples quasi-geostrophic flow to both near-inertial waves and the near-inertial second harmonic; and a model for the slow evolution of hydrostatic internal tides in quasi-geostrophic flow of near-arbitrary scale. This slow internal tide equation opens the path to a coupled model for the energetic interaction of quasi-geostrophic flow and oceanic internal tides.

Four results emerge. First, the wave-averaged quasi-geostrophic equation reveals that finite-amplitude waves give rise to a mean flow that advects quasi-geostrophic potential vorticity. Second is the definition of a new material invariant: Available Potential Vorticity, or APV. APV isolates the part of Ertel potential vorticity available for balanced-flow evolution in Eulerian frames and proves necessary in the separating waves and quasi-geostrophic flow. The third result, hashed out for near-inertial waves and quasi-geostrophic flow, is that wave-flow interaction leads to energy exchange even under conditions of weak nonlinearity. For storm-forced oceanic near-inertial waves the interaction often energizes waves at the expense of flow. We call this extraction of balanced quasi-geostrophic energy `stimulated generation' since it requires externally-forced rather than spontaneously-generated waves. The fourth result is that quasi-geostrophic flow can encourage or `catalyze' a nonlinear interaction between a near-inertial wave field and its second harmonic that transfers energy to the small near-inertial vertical scales of wave breaking and mixing.

Main Content
Current View