Modification of Long Equatorial Rossby Wave Phase Speeds by Zonal Currents

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  • Previously unaddressed aspects of how equatorial currents affect long Rossby wave phase speeds are investigated using solutions of the shallow-water equations linearized about quasi-realistic currents. Modification of the background potential vorticity (PV) gradient by curvature in the narrow equatorial currents is shown to play a role comparable to the Doppler shift emphasized by previous authors. The important variables are the meridional projections of mean-current features onto relevant aspects of the wave field. As previously shown, Doppler shifting of long Rossby waves is determined by the projection of the mean currents onto the wave’s squared zonal-velocity and pressure fields. PV-gradient modification matters only to the extent that it projects onto the wave field’s squared meridional velocity. Because the zeros of an equatorial wave’s meridional velocity are staggered relative to those of the zonal velocity and pressure, and because the meridional scales of the equatorial currents are similar to those of the low-mode Rossby waves, different parts of the current system dominate the advective and PV-gradient modification effects on a single mode. Since the equatorial symmetry of classical equatorial waves alternates between symmetric and antisymmetric with increasing meridional mode number, the currents produce opposite effects on adjacent modes. Meridional mode 1 is slowed primarily by a combination of eastward advection by the Equatorial Undercurrent (EUC) and the PV-gradient decrease at the peaks of the South Equatorial Current (SEC). The mode-2 phase speed, in contrast, is increased primarily by a combination of westward advection by the SEC and the PV-gradient increase at the core of the EUC. Perturbation solutions are carried to second order in ϵ, the Rossby number of the mean current, and it is shown that this is necessary to capture the full effect of quasi-realistic current systems, which are asymmetric about the equator. Equatorially symmetric components of the current system affect the phase speed at O(ϵ), but antisymmetric components of the currents and distortions of the wave structures by the currents do not influence the phase speed until O(ϵ²).
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  • Durland, Theodore S., Roger M. Samelson, Dudley B. Chelton, Roland A. de Szoeke, 2011: Modification of Long Equatorial Rossby Wave Phase Speeds by Zonal Currents. J. Phys. Oceanogr., 41, 1077–1101.
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  • 41
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  • 6
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  • The work was supported by NASA Grants NNG05GN98G and NNX10AO93G.
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