Journal cover Journal topic
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics An interactive open-access journal of the European Geosciences Union
Atmos. Chem. Phys., 9, 5587-5646, 2009
© Author(s) 2009. This work is distributed
under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 License.
06 Aug 2009
Tropical cyclogenesis in a tropical wave critical layer: easterly waves
T. J. Dunkerton1,2, M. T. Montgomery2, and Z. Wang2
1NorthWest Research Associates, Bellevue WA, USA
2Naval Postgraduate School, Monterey CA, USA

Abstract. The development of tropical depressions within tropical waves over the Atlantic and eastern Pacific is usually preceded by a "surface low along the wave" as if to suggest a hybrid wave-vortex structure in which flow streamlines not only undulate with the waves, but form a closed circulation in the lower troposphere surrounding the low. This structure, equatorward of the easterly jet axis, is identified herein as the familiar critical layer of waves in shear flow, a flow configuration which arguably provides the simplest conceptual framework for tropical cyclogenesis resulting from tropical waves, their interaction with the mean flow, and with diabatic processes associated with deep moist convection. The recirculating Kelvin cat's eye within the critical layer represents a sweet spot for tropical cyclogenesis in which a proto-vortex may form and grow within its parent wave. A common location for storm development is given by the intersection of the wave's critical latitude and trough axis at the center of the cat's eye, with analyzed vorticity centroid nearby. The wave and vortex live together for a time, and initially propagate at approximately the same speed. In most cases this coupled propagation continues for a few days after a tropical depression is identified. For easterly waves, as the name suggests, the propagation is westward. It is shown that in order to visualize optimally the associated Lagrangian motions, one should view the flow streamlines, or stream function, in a frame of reference translating horizontally with the phase propagation of the parent wave. In this co-moving frame, streamlines are approximately equivalent to particle trajectories. The closed circulation is quasi-stationary, and a dividing streamline separates air within the cat's eye from air outside. The critical layer equatorward of the easterly jet axis is important to tropical cyclogenesis because its cat's eye provides (i) a region of cyclonic vorticity and weak deformation by the resolved flow, (ii) containment of moisture entrained by the developing gyre and/or lofted by deep convection therein, (iii) confinement of mesoscale vortex aggregation, (iv) a predominantly convective type of heating profile, and (v) maintenance or enhancement of the parent wave until the vortex becomes a self-sustaining entity and emerges from the wave as a tropical depression. The entire sequence is likened to the development of a marsupial infant in its mother's pouch. These ideas are formulated in three new hypotheses describing the flow kinematics and dynamics, moist thermodynamics and wave/vortex interactions comprising the "marsupial paradigm". A survey of 55 named tropical storms in 1998–2001 reveals that actual critical layers sometimes resemble the ideal east-west train of cat's eyes, but are usually less regular, with one or more recirculation regions in the co-moving frame. It is shown that the kinematics of isolated proto-vortices carried by the wave also can be visualized in a frame of reference translating at or near the phase speed of the parent wave. The proper translation speeds for wave and vortex may vary with height owing to vertical shear and wave-vortex interaction. Some implications for entrainment/containment of vorticity and moisture in the cat's eye are discussed from this perspective, based on the observational survey.

Citation: Dunkerton, T. J., Montgomery, M. T., and Wang, Z.: Tropical cyclogenesis in a tropical wave critical layer: easterly waves, Atmos. Chem. Phys., 9, 5587-5646, doi:10.5194/acp-9-5587-2009, 2009.
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