Zonal Flows and Turbulence in Fluids and Plasmas

by Jeffrey Parker

Institution: Princeton University
Department: Plasma Physics
Degree: PhD
Year: 2014
Keywords: pattern formation; turbulence; zonal flow; Plasma physics; Atmospheric sciences
Record ID: 2027527
Full text PDF: http://arks.princeton.edu/ark:/88435/dsp01h989r543m


In geophysical and plasma contexts, zonal flows are well known to arise out of turbulence. We elucidate the transition from statistically homogeneous turbulence without zonal flows to statistically inhomogeneous turbulence with steady zonal flows. Starting from the Hasegawa – Mima equation, we employ both the quasilinear approximation and a statistical average, which retains a great deal of the qualitative behavior of the full system. Within the resulting framework known as CE2, we extend recent understanding of the symmetry-breaking `zonostrophic instability'. Zonostrophic instability can be understood in a very general way as the instability of some turbulent background spectrum to a zonally symmetric coherent mode. As a special case, the background spectrum can consist of only a single mode. We find that in this case the dispersion relation of zonostrophic instability from the CE2 formalism reduces exactly to that of the 4-mode truncation of generalized modulational instability. We then show that zonal flows constitute pattern formation amid a turbulent bath. Zonostrophic instability is an example of a Type Is instability of pattern-forming systems. The broken symmetry is statistical homogeneity. Near the bifurcation point, the slow dynamics of CE2 are governed by a well-known amplitude equation, the real Ginzburg-Landau equation. The important features of this amplitude equation, and therefore of the CE2 system, are multiple. First, the zonal flow wavelength is not unique. In an idealized, infinite system, there is a continuous band of zonal flow wavelengths that allow a nonlinear equilibrium. Second, of these wavelengths, only those within a smaller subband are stable. Unstable wavelengths must evolve to reach a stable wavelength; this process manifests as merging jets. These behaviors are shown numerically to hold in the CE2 system, and we calculate a stability diagram. The stability diagram is in agreement with direct numerical simulations of the quasilinear system. The use of statistically-averaged equations and the pattern formation methodology provide a path forward for further systematic investigations of zonal flows and their interactions with turbulence.