Point vortex dynamics for coupled surface/interior QG and propagating heton clusters in models for ocean convection

Chjan C. Lim, Andrew J. Majda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


The dynamic behavior of baroclinic point vortices in two-layer quasi-geostrophic flow provides a compact model for studying the transport of heat in a variety of geophysical flows including recent heton models for open ocean convection as a response to spatially localized intense surface cooling. In such heton models, the exchange of heat with the region external to the compact cooling region reaches a statistical equilibrium through the propagation of tilted heton clusters. Such tilted heton clusters are aggregates of cyclonic vortices in the upper layer and anti-cyclonic vortices in the lower layer which collectively propagate almost as an elementary tilted heton pair even though the individual vortices undergo shifts in their relative locations. One main result in this paper is a mathematical theorem demonstrating the existence of large families of long-lived propagating heton clusters for the two-layer model in a fashion compatible to a remarkable degree with the earlier numerical simulations. Two-layer quasi-geostrophic flow is an idealization of coupled surface/interior quasi-geostrophic flow. The second family of results in this paper involves the systematic development of Hamiltonian point vortex dynamics for coupled surface/interior QG with an emphasis on propagating solutions that transport heat. These are novel vortex systems of mixed species where surface heat particles interact with quasi-geostrophic point vortices. The variety of elementary two-vortex exact solutions that transport heat include two surface heat particles of opposite strength, tilted pairs of a surface heat particle coupled to an interior vortex of opposite strength and two interior tilted vortices of opposite strength at different depths. The propagation speeds of the tilted elementary hetons in the coupled surface/interior QG model are compared and contrasted with those in the simpler two-layer heton models. Finally, mathematical theorems are presented for the existence of large families of propagating long-lived tilted heton clusters for point vortex solutions in coupled surface/interior QG flow.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)177-220
Number of pages44
JournalGeophysical and Astrophysical Fluid Dynamics
Issue number3-4
StatePublished - 2001


  • Baroclinic vortices
  • Hamiltonian structure
  • Ocean convection

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Computational Mechanics
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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