J. Atmos. Sci., 49 549-559

Behavior of a Moist Kelvin Wave Packet with Nonlinear Heating

Bin WANG and Yan XUE
Department of Meteorology, University of Hawaii at Manoa, Honolulu, Hawaii

(Manuscript received 26 July 1990, in final form 15 January 1991)


The effects of nonlinear (positive only or conditional) heating on moist Kelvin waves are examined with a simple equatorial zonal-plane model describing the gravest baroclinic mode.

The unstable perturbation subject to nonlinear heating emerges as a wave packet. A typical amplifying, eastward-moving wave packet is characterized by an asymmetric structure: 1) the ascending branch (wet region) is much narrower than the two descending ones (dry regions); and 2) the circulation cell to the east of the wet region center is smaller and stronger than its counterpart to the west of the center. The wet-dry asymmetry is primarily caused by the nonlinear heating effect, while the east-west asymmetry is a result of the movement of the wave packet relative to mean flow. The existence of Newtonian cooling and Rayleigh friction enhances the structural asymmetries.

The unstable wave packet is characterized by two zonal length scales: the ascending branch length (ABL) and total circulation extent (TCE). For a given basic state, the growth rate of a wave packet increases with decreasing ABL or TCE. However, up to a moderate growth rate (order of day--1) the energy spectra of all wave packets are dominated by zonal wavenumber one regardless of ABL size. In particular, the slowly growing (low frequency) wave packets normally exhibit TCEs of planetary scale and ABLs of synoptic scale.

Observed equatorial intraseasonal disturbances often display a narrow convection region in between two much broader dry regions and a total circulation of planetary scale. These structure and scale characteristics are caused by the effects of nonlinear heating and the cyclic geometry of the equator. It is argued that the unstable disturbance found in numerical experiments (e.g., Lau and Peng; Hayashi and Sumi) is a manifestation of the nonlinear wave packet.

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