Communications in Mathematical Sciences

Volume 2 (2004)

Number 4

Large Scale Dynamics of Precipitation Fronts in the Tropical Atmosphere: A Novel Relaxation Limit

Pages: 591 – 626



Dargan M.W. Frierson

Andrew J. Majda

Olivier M. Pauluis


A simplified set of equations is derived systematically below for the interaction of large scale flow fields and precipitation in the tropical atmosphere. These equations, the Tropical Climate Model, have the form of a shallow water equation and an equation for moisture coupled through a strongly nonlinear source term. This source term, the precipitation, is of relaxation type in one region of state space f or the temperature and moisture, and vanishes identically elsewhere in the state space of these variables. In addition, the equations are coupled nonlinearly to the equations for barotropic incompressible flow. Several mathematical features of this system are developed below including energy principles for solutions and their first derivatives independent of relaxation time. With these estimates, the formal infinitely fast relaxation limit converges to a novel hyperbolic free boundary problem for the motion of precipitation fronts from a large scale dynamical perspective. Elementary exact solutions of the limiting dynamics involving precipitation fronts are developed below and include three families of waves: fast drying fronts as well as slow and fast moistening fronts. The last two families of waves violate Lax's Shock Inequalities; nevertheless, numerical experiments presented below confirm their robust realizability with realistic finite relaxation times. From the viewpoint of tropical atmospheric dynamics, the theory developed here provides a new perspective on the fashion in which the prominent large scale regions of moisture in the tropics associated with deep convection can move and interact with large scale dynamics in the quasi-equilibrium approximation.

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