Beta plane

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In geophysical fluid dynamics, an approximation whereby the Coriolis parameter, f, is set to vary linearly in space is called a beta plane approximation.

Fluid dynamics subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that deals with fluid flow—the natural science of fluids (liquids and gases) in motion

In physics and engineering, fluid dynamics is a subdiscipline of fluid mechanics that describes the flow of fluids—liquids and gases. It has several subdisciplines, including aerodynamics and hydrodynamics. Fluid dynamics has a wide range of applications, including calculating forces and moments on aircraft, determining the mass flow rate of petroleum through pipelines, predicting weather patterns, understanding nebulae in interstellar space and modelling fission weapon detonation,

On a rotating sphere such as the Earth, f varies with the sine of latitude; in the so-called f-plane approximation, this variation is ignored, and a value of f appropriate for a particular latitude is used throughout the domain. This approximation can be visualized as a tangent plane touching the surface of the sphere at this latitude.

In geophysical fluid dynamics, the f-plane approximation is an approximation where the Coriolis parameter, denoted f, is set to a constant value.

A more accurate model is a linear Taylor series approximation to this variability about a given latitude :

Taylor series representation of a function

In mathematics, a Taylor series is a representation of a function as an infinite sum of terms that are calculated from the values of the function's derivatives at a single point.

, where is the Coriolis parameter at , is the Rossby parameter, is the meridional distance from , is the angular rotation rate of the Earth, and is the Earth's radius. [1]

The Rossby parameter is a number used in geophysics and meteorology which arises due to the meridional variation of the Coriolis force caused by the spherical shape of the Earth. It is important in the generation of Rossby waves. The Rossby parameter is given by

In analogy with the f-plane, this approximation is termed the beta plane, even though it no longer describes dynamics on a hypothetical tangent plane. The advantage of the beta plane approximation over more accurate formulations is that it does not contribute nonlinear terms to the dynamical equations; such terms make the equations harder to solve. The name 'beta plane' derives from the convention to denote the linear coefficient of variation with the Greek letter β.

The beta plane approximation is useful for the theoretical analysis of many phenomena in geophysical fluid dynamics since it makes the equations much more tractable, yet retains the important information that the Coriolis parameter varies in space. In particular, Rossby waves, the most important type of waves if one considers large-scale atmospheric and oceanic dynamics, depend on the variation of f as a restoring force; they do not occur if the Coriolis parameter is approximated only as a constant.

See also

The Coriolis frequencyƒ, also called the Coriolis parameter or Coriolis coefficient, is equal to twice the rotation rate Ω of the Earth multiplied by the sine of the latitude φ.

While geostrophic motion refers to the wind that would result from an exact balance between the Coriolis force and horizontal pressure-gradient forces, quasi-geostrophic (QG) motion refers to flows where the Coriolis force and pressure gradient forces are almost in balance, but with inertia also having an effect.

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The Rossby number (Ro) named for Carl-Gustav Arvid Rossby, is a dimensionless number used in describing fluid flow. The Rossby number is the ratio of inertial force to Coriolis force, terms and in the Navier–Stokes equations, respectively. It is commonly used in geophysical phenomena in the oceans and atmosphere, where it characterizes the importance of Coriolis accelerations arising from planetary rotation. It is also known as the Kibel number.

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  1. Holton, James R.; Hakim, Gregory J. (2013). An Introduction to Dynamic Meteorology (fifth ed.). Academic Press. p. 160.