Transitions Between Blocked and Zonal Flows in a Rotating Annulus with Topography

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Science  28 Nov 1997:
Vol. 278, Issue 5343, pp. 1598-1601
DOI: 10.1126/science.278.5343.1598

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The mid-latitude atmosphere is dominated by westerly, nearly zonal flow. Occasionally, this flow is deflected poleward by blocking anticyclones that persist for 10 days or longer. Experiments in a rotating annulus used radial pumping to generate a zonal jet under the action of the Coriolis force. In the presence of two symmetric ridges at the bottom of the annulus, the resulting flows were nearly zonal at high forcing or blocked at low forcing. Intermittent switching between blocked and zonal patterns occurs because of the jet's interaction with the topography. These results shed further light on previous atmospheric observations and numerical simulations.

  • * Present address: Department of Physics, Georgetown University, Washington, DC 20057, USA.

  • To whom correspondence should be addressed. E-mail: swinney{at}

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