Lagrangian available energetics and parcel instabilities

Peter R. Bannon

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6 Scopus citations


A new derivation of local available energy for a compressible, multicomponent fluid whose base state need not be one of rest that allows for frictional and diabatic processes is presented. The available energy is the sum of the kinetic energy and the available potential and available elastic energies. These energy contributions are defined relative to an arbitrary reference state that can be in motion. Invoking a Lagrangian perspective, it is natural to choose the reference state as the initial state of the parcel. Then the resulting energies are consistent with published formulas for single and binary compressible fluids under inviscid, adiabatic conditions. When the parcel-theory assumption (that the pressure of the parcel is always that of the environment) is invoked, the available elastic energy is identically zero and a fluid parcel will conserve the sum of its kinetic and available potential energies for inviscid, adiabatic flow. In this case, the parcel's available potential energy is the departure of the parcel's static energy (i.e., the sum of its potential energy and enthalpy) from its initial value. Applications of the theory are made to inertial and symmetric instabilities. Typically the instability is characterized by an increase in kinetic energy at the expense of the available potential energy that becomes negative. In the inertial case, the available potential energy is the negative of the work done by the horizontal pressure gradient force. In the symmetric case, it is the negative of the work done by the horizontal pressure gradient force and the buoyancy force, and it is a modified form of the slantwise convective energy (SCAPE) that includes the work done by the transverse (i.e., perpendicular to the mean flow) Coriolis forces. A convenient method to determine the longitudinal (i.e., parallel to the mean flow) and transverse contributions to the kinetic energy is presented. For upright convection, the decrease in the parcel's available potential energy equals its convective available potential energy. Comparison to traditional energetics is made.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1754-1767
Number of pages14
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number14
StatePublished - Jul 15 2004

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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