Nonlinear interactions of fast and slow modes in rotating, stratified fluid flows
This thesis describes a combined model and laboratory investigation of the generation and mutual interactions of fluid waves whose characteristic scales differ by an order of magnitude or more. The principal aims are to study how waves on one scale can generate waves on another, much shorter scale, and to examine the subsequent nonlinear feedback of the short waves on the long waves. The underlying motive is to better understand such interactions in rotating, stratified, planetary fluids such as atmospheres and oceans. The first part of the thesis describes a laboratory investigation using a rotating, two-layer annulus, forced by imposing a shear across the interface between the layers. A method is developed for making measurements of the two-dimensional interface height field which are very highly-resolved both in space and time. The system's linear normal modes fall into two distinct classes: 'slow' waves which are relatively long in wavelength and intrinsic period, and 'fast' waves which are much shorter and more quickly-evolving. Experiments are performed to categorize the flow at a wide range of points in the system's parameter space. At very small background rotation rates, the interface is completely devoid of waves of both types. At higher rates, fast modes only are generated, and are shown to be consistent with the Kelvin-Helmholtz instability mechanism based on a critical Richardson number. At rotation rates which are higher still, baroclinic instability gives rise to the onset of slow modes, with subsequent localized generation of fast modes superimposed in the troughs of the slow waves. In order to examine the generation mechanism of these coexisting fast modes, and to assess the extent of their impact upon the evolution of the slow modes, a quasi-geostrophic numerical model of the laboratory annulus is developed in the second part of the thesis. Fast modes are filtered out of the model by construction, as the phase space trajectory is confined to the slow manifold, but the slow wave dynamics is accurately captured. Model velocity fields are used to diagnose a number of fast wave radiation indicators. In contrast to the case of isolated fast waves, the Richardson number is a poor indicator of the generation of the coexisting fast waves that are observed in the laboratory, and so it is inferred that these are not Kelvin-Helmholtz waves. The best indicator is one associated with the spontaneous emission of inertia-gravity waves, a generalization of geostrophic adjustment radiation. A comparison is carried out between the equilibrated wavenumbers, phase speeds and amplitudes of slow waves in the laboratory (which coexist with fast modes), and slow waves in the model (which exist alone). There are significant differences between these wave properties, but it is shown that these discrepancies can be attributed to uncertainties in fluid properties, and to model approximations apart from the neglect of fast modes. The impact of the fast modes on the slow modes is therefore sufficiently small to evade illumination by this method of inquiry. As a stronger test of the interaction, a stochastic parameterization of the inertia-gravity waves is included in the model. Consistent with the laboratory/model intercomparison, the parameterized fast waves generally have only a small impact upon the slow waves. However, sufficiently close to a transition curve between two different slow modes in the system's parameter space, it is shown that the fast modes can exert a dominant influence. In particular, the fast modes can force spontaneous transitions from one slow mode to another, due to the phenomenon of stochastic resonance. This finding should be of interest to the meteorological and climate modelling communities, because of its potential to affect model reliability.