Wave-induced mean flows in rotating shallow water with uniform potential vorticity

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Theoretical and numerical computations of the wave-induced mean flow in rotating shallow water with uniform potential vorticity are presented, with an eye towards applications in small-scale oceanography where potential-vorticity anomalies are often weak compared to the waves. The asymptotic computations are based on small-amplitude expansions and time averaging over the fast wave scale to define the mean flow. Importantly, we do not assume that the mean flow is balanced, i.e. we compute the full mean-flow response at leading order. Particular attention is paid to the concept of modified diagnostic relations, which link the leading-order Lagrangian-mean velocity field to certain wave properties known from the linear solution. Both steady and unsteady wave fields are considered, with specific examples that include propagating wavepackets and monochromatic standing waves. Very good agreement between the theoretical predictions and direct numerical simulations of the nonlinear system is demonstrated. In particular, we extend previous studies by considering the impact of unsteady wave fields on the mean flow, and by considering the total kinetic energy of the mean flow as a function of the rotation rate. Notably, monochromatic standing waves provide an explicit counterexample to the often observed tendency of the mean flow to decrease monotonically with the background rotation rate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)408-429
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of Fluid Mechanics
StatePublished - Mar 25 2018


  • quasi-geostrophic flows
  • rotating flows
  • shallow water flows

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Condensed Matter Physics
  • Mechanics of Materials
  • Mechanical Engineering


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