Baroclinic instability of perturbations described by the linearized primitive quations, growing on steady zonal jets on the sphere, can be understood in terms of the interaction of pairs of counter-propagating Rossby waves (CRWs). The CRWs can be viewed as the basic components of the dynamical system where the Hamiltonian is the pseudoenergy and each CRW has a zonal coordinate and pseudomomentum. The theory holds for adiabatic frictionless flow to the extent that truncated forms of pseudomomentum and pseudoenergy are globally conserved. These forms focus attention on Rossby wave activity. Normal mode (NM) dispersion relations for realistic jets are explained in terms of the two CRWs associated with each unstable NM pair. Although derived from the NMs, CRWs have the conceptual advantage that their structure is zonally untilted, and can be anticipated given only the basic state. Moreover, their zonal propagation, phase-locking and mutual interaction can all be understood by ‘PV-thinking’ applied at only two ‘home-bases’—potential vorticity (PV) anomalies at one home-base induce circulation anomalies, both locally and at the other home-base, which in turn can advect the PV gradient and modify PV anomalies there. At short wavelengths the upper CRW is focused in the mid-troposphere just above the steering level of the NM, but at longer wavelengths the upper CRW has a second wave-activity maximum at the tropopause. In the absence of meridional shear, CRW behaviour is very similar to that of Charney modes, while shear results in a meridional slant with height of the air-parcel displacement-structures of CRWs in sympathy with basic-state zonal angular-velocity surfaces. A consequence of this slant is that baroclinically growing eddies (on jets broader than the Rossby radius) must tilt downshear in the horizontal, giving rise to up-gradient momentum fluxes that tend to accelerate the barotropic component of the jet
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