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Truth is much too complicated to allow anything but ap\oximation!

lohn von Neuma.n (1901-19s7).




Shallow Water Systems and lsentropic


oNVENTToNALLY, 'TH E SHALLoW WATER EeUATIoNS describe a thin layff of constant density

fluid in hydrostatic balance, rotating or not, bounded from below by a dgial surface and ftom above by a free suface, above which we suppos is another fluid of negligibl€ inertia. Such a configuration can b generalized to muttiple layers of tnmiscible

fluids lying one on top of anoth€r, forming a'stacked shallow water' system, and this class

of svsrcms rs rhe main sublecr of rhi\ chapler. Th€ single{ayer model is one of the simplest useful models in geophysical fluid al}rnamics, b€cause it allows for a consideration of the eff€cts of rotation in a simple framework wittrout

the complicating eff€cts of stratification. By adding layers w can subsequently study the effects of stratification, and the model with just two layers is not orily a simple model of

a stratified fluid, it is a suDrisingly good model of many phenomena in the ocean and

aturcsphere. Indeed, the modls are more thanjust pedagogical tools we will find thar therc is a close physical and mathematical anatogy between the shatlow water equations

and a description of the continuously statifi€d ocean or atmosphere $.ritten in isopycnal or ismtropic coordinates, lyirh a meaning beyond a cohcid€ntal similarity in the equations. We

begin with the single'lay€I case.


Shallow water dFamics apply, by definition, ro a fluid tayer of constant density in which the

horizontal scale of rhe flow is much grearer rhan the layer depth. The fluial motion

detemined by the momentum and mass contiluity equations, and because of the assumed

is fully



Chapter 3. ShallowWater Systems and lsentropic Coordinates




Fig. 3.1 A shallowwater system. h is the thickness of a water cotumn, I{ irs mean

thickness. 4 the height of rhe fre€ surfac€ and 4, is the heisht ofthe tower, riqid,

surface, above some arbitrary origin! typicalty (hosen such that the average of zero. A4 is the deviation free surface.height, so we have 4 = nb + h = E + An.

4, is

small asp€ct mtio the hydrostatic approximation is welt satisfied, anal we invoke this from

of negligibl€

dnsity (and therefore negligible inertia) retative to the fluid of interest, as illustrated in

t/j + xrk is the thee dimensional vetocity

the outset. Consider, then, fluid in a container above which is another fluid

Fig. 3.1. As usual, our notation is that r = x.i +

and r, = xri + ,j is the horizontal v€locity. I!(r,Jr') is the thickness of the liquid cohjrnn,

H is its mean height, and 4 is the height of the free surface_ In a flat-bottomed container

4 = l'!, whereas

in general h = 4

3.1.1 Momentum quations

4r, where t, is the height of the floor of the container.

The vertical momentum equation is just the hydrostatic equation,



and, because density is assumed constant, we may inte$at this to

p(x,y.zl = pg2 + po.


At the top of the fluid, z : r?, th pressure is detmined by the

and this is as$med to be negtigible. Thus,

w€ighr of the overlying fluid

p = 0 at z :

r| giving

p\x, y, z) = pgh\x,y

) - z).


The consequenc€ of this is that rhe horizontal gradient of plessule is independenr of height. That is






3.1 Dynamics of a Single, Shallow Layer



is the gradient opemtor at constant z. (In the rest of this chapter we will drop th€ subscript

2 ur ess that causes ambiguity. The three-dimensional gradient operator will be denoted by V3. we will also mostly use cartesian coordinates, but the shallow water equations may certainly be applied over a spherical planet - indeed, 'Laplace's tidal equations' are

essentially the shallow water equations on a sph€re.) The horizontal mom€ntum equations

therefore become





The nght-hand side of this equation is independent of the verocal coordinate z. Thus, if the flolv is initially independent of z, it must stay so. (This z independence is unrelated to that

arising from the rapid rotation necessary for the Taylor-houdman eff€ct.) The velocities u

and u are functions of r., j'l and t on1y, and th€ horizontal momentum equation is therefore


Dx au


or=ai+ t+r/aw:-.4v4.



That the horizontal velocity is ind€pendent of z is a consequence of tie hydrostatic equation,

which ensures that the horizontal pressure gradient is hdependent of height. (Another

starting point would be to take this independence of the honzontal motion with height as the defnihbn of shalow water flow. In real physical situations such independence does not hold exactly for example, ftiction at the bottom may induce a vertical dependence ol the

flow in aboundary layer.) ln the presence of rotation, (3.7) easily gen€ralizes to


6l+r /u:



wher / = /k. Just as with the primitive equations, / may be constant or may

Iatitude, so that on a spherical planet / : 2r, sin


and on the r-plane /

vary with

= /0 + p/.

3.1,2 Mass continuity €quation

Fron firct pfinciples

The mass contained in a fluid column of height h and cross sectional area A is given by

Ia p h .lA (see Fig. 3.2). If thr is a net flux of fllltd across the colunm boundary &v advection) th€n this must be balanced by a n€t increase in the mass in A, ard therefore a net increase

in the height of th€ water colurnn. The mass converyence into th€ column is given by

l- = mass flux in =

J lu

. dS,


where S is the area of the vertical boundary of the column. The strfac€ area of the column is romposed of elements of area ,xn 51, where d, is a line el€ment ctcumscribing the colulm and n is a unit vector perpendicular to th€ boundary, pointing outwards. Thus (3.9) becomes


| I Phu



Using the divergence theorem in two dimensions, (3.10) simplifies to

F^ = - Iav .(puhi M,



Chapt€r 3. Shallow Warer Systems and tsentropic Coordinates

Fis.3.Z The mass budget for a col-

umn of area A in a shallow wate. sys

tem. The fluid



leaving th€ column is

is the unit vec,

\ hete r

tor normalto the boundary ofthe fluid

column. There is a non-zero venical

velocity at the rop ofthe column ifthe mass convergenc€ into rhe column is

where the integral is over rhe cross-s€ctional area of the fluid column (tooking down ftom above). This is balanced by the local increase in hight of th water colunn, given by

o-= ft1,a,: frl^,n* =J^,u**


Because p is constant, the balaffe b€tlveen (3.11) and (3.t2) teads to

j^[ff., . ou]ao=o,


and because the area is a$itrary the integrand itselJ must vanish, whence,



or equivalently


|);+hv. =0


This dedvation holds whether or not the lower surface is flat. If it is,


then h = 4, and if not

4r. Equations (3.8) and (3.14) or (3.I 5) form a comptete set, surrunadzed in rhe

shaded box on the next page.

From the 3D mass conservation equation

Since the fluid is incompressible, the three-dimensionat mass continuity equation is just

V . r = 0. Writing this our in component form



\ax ay ) :-V



3.1 Dynamics of a Single, Shallow Layer



The Shallow Water Equations

For a single'layff fluid, and ircluding the Coiolis terE, the inviscid shallow water


momentum: 6t+J/


mass continuit'4


Dt +lrv u-0



#+v.(hr)=0, (sw.2)

where is the ho zontal velocity, h is the total fluid thicloess, 4 is the height

of the upper free surface and

topogaphy). Thus, h(t, y,t) =

is the height of the lower surface (the bottom



4, (x, v ). The material derivative is


J;=t-u Daaaa

o- at*uar*'av'

with the rightmost explesion holding in Cartesian coordinat$.

Inte$ate this from the bottom of the flural (z = r,r) to the top (z = 4), noting that the

dght-hand side is indep€ndent of z, to grve

tuh) -u(4b): -hv 'u.


Ar the top the v€rtical velocity is the material derivative of the positron of a partiorlar fluid


But the position of the fluid at the top is just r], and th€rcfore (see fig. 3 2)

wr =U.


At the bottom of the flurd we have similarly




= it




where, apart from ea hquakes and the like, Anrlaf = 0. Using (3.18a'b)' (3.17) becomes

or. as in (3.15),




,o) *no u=o




3,1.3 A rigid lid

lte case where the uppr surface is held flat by the imposition of a rigid lid is sometimes of

int€Iest. The ocean sugg€sts on€ such example, since the bath)T netry at the bottom of the ocean prc!'rdes much Iarger vadations in fluid thclmess than do the small vaiiations in ttre


Chaptr 3. Shallow Water Systems and lsentropic Coordinates

height of the ocean sufac. Suppose then that the upper surface is at a constant height II then, from (3.14) with ahlaf = 0, th mass conservadon equation becomes

vh.(lthbi =o,


where h, = H . nr. Note that (3.2r) alows us to define an incompressible mass'tlansport

Although the upper surface is flat, the pressur€ th€re is no longer constant because a

force must b provided by the rigid lid to keep the surface flat. The horizontal momentum

equation is

Daa l-

ot =


where pxd is the pressure at the lid, and th complet€ €quations of motion are then (3.2I) and (3.22).1 If the lower surface is flat, the trvo-dimensional flow itself is div€rgence-free,

and the equations reduce to the tlvo-djmensional incompressible Euler equations.

3.1a4 Stretching and the vertical velocity

Berause thc hodzontal velocity is depth independent, the vertical velocity plays no role in

advectioL Howev€r, 1r/ is certaidy not zero for then the ftee surface would be unable to move up or don'n, but because of the vertical independence of th€ hodzontal flow 1, does

have a simple vertical structurei to determine this we wrte the mass conseNation equatior



- .v.

and integrat€ upwards ftom tle bottom to give

u = wb - (v u)(z nb).



Thus, th€ vetical velocity is a linear function of height. Equation (3.24) can be written as




,o.u\tz 4b\.


and at the upper surfac€ 1r/ = D4/Dt so that here we have

Dn Drl




=:J:2 tv . u\tn_ nb).



Eliminatirg the divergence telm ftom the last tlvo equations gives

which in turn gives



Dtl, not= n_;wt4-nrt,



D tz-nb\ ,' /-*





This means that the ratio of the height of a fluid parc€l above the floor to the total depth of the column is fix€d; that is, the fluid st€tches udfo r y in a colunr\ and this is a kinematic prope(y of the shallow lrater system.

1.2 Reduced Cravity Equations


I t_



Fig.3.3 The reduced gravity shallowwa

ter sYstem, An active layer lies over a

more dnse, quiescent laver. ln a

ommon variation the upper surfac€ k held flat bya risid lid, and 40 = 0.


3.1.5 Analogy with compressible flow

Th€ shallow water equations (3.8) and (3 14) are analogous to the compressible gas dt'namic quations in two dimensions, namelv

P! = !o"






along with an equation of

€quaiions (3.I4) and (3.30)

state wtlch we tak to be p = f (.p) The mass conseffation

are identical, with the replacement p -

h lf p :

Cpv' then {3 29)

D! = -L!!sp:

6ypt zsp.


If y = 2 then the momentum equations (3 8) and (3.31i become equivalent' with p - h and

are in fact less than 2 (in air y = 7/5);

analogv is exact for all values of y' for

Cy - g. In an ideal gas y = cpl.! and vatues tlpicallv

h;wev;r, if the quations are linearized, then the

lhen (1.31)


bFcomes at

ar -

po-r.aVp' wherF I

momentum cquar ion rs a lr /Al - -H



dp dp

and lhe linearized shallo$

H and .a - 9H Ihc

so that po -

sound waves of a compressible fluial are then analogous to shallo$'water waves' which are

considered in section 3.7


Consider now a single shallow moMng laver of fluid on top of a deep, quiescent fluid layel

(Fig. 3.3), and beneath a fluid of negligible inertia- This configuration is often used as a

mo(lel of the upper

mehes of the

ocean: the upper laver rcpreserts flow in perhaps the upper few hmdred

ocean, the lower layer bing the near_stagnant abyss lf we turn the model


alown we have a perhaps slightly less iealistic mod€l of the atmosphere: the lower

represents motion in the trcposphere above lvhich lies an inactive stratosphere The


equations of motion are virtually the same in both cascs.


Chapter 3. Shallow Water Systems and lsentropi( Coordinates

3.2.1 Pressure gradient in the active layer

We will derive th€ equations for the oceanic case (active layer on top) in tlvo cases, whirh differ slightly in the assumption mad€ about th€ upper surfac€.

I Free upper surface

The pressur€ in the upp€r layer is given by inlegrating the hyahostatic equation down ftom I he upper suface. Thus, at a heighr z in rh€ upper ld)cr

pte) = Spt(no 2),


wh€re 40 is the height of the upper surfac€. H€nc€, ev€rywhere in the upper layer,


= -"'no,

and the momentum equation is






In the lower Iayer the pressue is also giv€n by the weight of the fluid above it. Thus, at som€

level z in the lower layer,

p2e) = pts\no nt) + pzs(h - z).


But if this layer is motionless the hodzontal pressuie gradient in it is zero and therelore

ptsno- ps 4r -constant.


whete g' : g@2 - pt) I pt rs r}]'e reduced graviq,.'l}le momentum equation becoms

?1 - r


, - s'o,,,.


The equations are compl€ted by the usual mass consewation equation,



where ,1 : no - 4r. Because 9 > g', (3.36) shows that surface displacements are much

smdiier than th€ displacements at the interior interface. We see this in the real ocean wher the mean intedor isopycnal displac€ments may be seveml tens of metres but vadations in the mean height of ocean suface are of the order of cenrimetres.

II The rigid lid approximation The smallness of the upper surface displacement suggests that we will mak little error is

we impose a rltid iid at the top of the fluid. Displac€ments ar€ no longer allowed, but the lid will in g€n€ml impart a pressure force to the fluid. Suppose that this is P(r, /, f), th€n the hodzontal pressure gradient in th upper layer is simply

vpr = VP.


3.3 Multi Layer Shallow Water Equations


The pressue in rhe lower layer is again given by hydrostasy, and is

so that

p2= -hSn1+ pzg\nr - zJ +P = pgh


9pz = -Slpz pr)Vh + VP.

Then if Vp2 = 0 we have





and the momenrum equation for ihe upperlayer rsjusl



whcre g' = g\p2 - pt) I p I . Thes€ €quations differ from the usual shallow water equations

only in the us€ of a r€duc€dgravityr'in plac€ of I its€lf. lt is the densiay dr'frernce betrveen

the two layers that is important. Similarly, if we tale a shallow water system, with the moving layer on the bottom, and we suppose that overlying it is a stationary fluid of finit€

density, then we would easily furd that the fluid equations for lhc moving layer are the same

as if the fluid on iop had zero ineltia, except that t would be replaced by an appmpriat€ reduced gmvity (problem 3.1).


we now consider the d).namics of multiple layers of fluid stacked on top of each other.

This is a crude representation of continuous statification, but it tums out to b€ a powerful model of many geophysically interesting phenomena as well as being physically realizable in the laboratory, The prcssurc is continuous across the interface, but the density jumps discontiruously and this allows the horizontal velocity to have a corresponding discontinuity.

Thc set up is illustrated in Fig. 3.4.

In cach lay€I pressure is given by the hyabostatic approximatioq and so an)ryhere in the

interlorwe can ffnd the pressure by integrating dolvn from the top. Thus, at a height z in

t}le first layer we have



and in the second layer,

p2 = pfiho - 4t) + p?gh) - z) = plsno + hs\nr



whete gi = g@2 - pt) lpr, and so on. The term involving z is irrelevant for the dynamics, because orily the horizontal de vative cnters the equation of motion. Omitting this tetur,

for the nth layer the dFamlcal prcssure is given by the sum from the top do$'n:

P^=Pr ZStth'


where 9; =9(pi+r p)lh(bDrgo = g).The interface displacements may b€ expressedin

terms of the layer thiclaresses by sumrling from the bottom up:


Fig. 3.4 The multi-layer shal-

low water system. The layers

are number€d from the top

down. The coordinat€s of th

interfa.es are denoted by 4,

and the layer thicknesses by

h, so that hi = 4r - 4i r.

Chapter 3. ShallowWater Systems and ls€ntropic Coordinats






The momentum equation lor each layer may then be wdtten, in general,







where the pressure is given by (3.46) and in terms of the layer depths usinC (3.a8). If we male the Boussinesq approximation then pn on the right-hand side of (3.48)is replaced by

Finally, the mass conservadon equation for each layer has the same form as the single- layer case, and is



The two- and threeJayer cases

The two.layer model (Fig. 3,5) is the simplest model to captwe the effects of stratification.

Evaluating the presswes ustng (3.46) and (3.47) we ffnd:

Pt = Prgno = PP(111+ h2 + nb)

p2 = p tts no + slntl = pt lg lh t + h2 + nb) + gihz + nb\1.



The momentum equations for the Evo layers arc then





and in the bottom layer

zut =. gV no -

.gvthr - h2 + nbt.

Dff r 1*u, = fibvno + e\vn,) : - Pj[ov tnt + n, + n) + siv (h2 + n,,l .



3.3 Mukl-Layer Shallow Water Equations


Fig.3.5 The two.layer shallowwater system. A fluid ofdensity p, lies over a denser fluid of density pr. ln the.educed qravity case the lower layer may be arbitrarily thick and i5 ass!med stataonary and so has no horizontal pressLrre gradient. ln the

'rigid lid' approximation the top surface displa<enent is negleded, but there is then a non-zero pressure sradient induced by the lid.

In the Boussinesq approximation prlp, is replaced by unity. In a thrce-layer model the dynamical prcssures are found to be

P1 = PPh

p2 = pllgh + gi(hz + b

+ rtb)l

pr = pt Ish + gilhz + h3 + nb) + sih3 + nb,l,




where h = no = r,D + hr +hz+h a\d.gi= g\p3 pz)/pt.Morelay€rscanobviouslybe

added in a systematic fashion.

3.3.1 Reduced'gravity multi-layer€quation

As with a single active layer, we may envision multipl€ laycrs of fluid overlying a dceper stationary layer- This is a useful model of thc stratified upper ocean ove ying a nearly

stationary and nearly unshatified abyss. hdeed se use such a modei to study the 'vcntilated

thermocline' in chapter 16 and a detailed treatment may be found there. If we supposc there is a lid at the top, then thc rnodel is almost the same as that of the previous scction. However, now the horizontal pressure gradient in the lowest model layer is zero, and so we may obtain th€ pressures m all the active layers by integrating the hydrostatic equation

upwards from this layer. Suppose we have N moving layers, lhen th€ reader may verify that th€ d),nami€ pressure in th€ rL th layer is given by

P^ :

L Ptg,nt,



Chapter 3. Shallowwater Systems and lsentropic Coordinates

Fiuid velocity, into page

Fis. 3.6 Geostrophic flow in a shallow water system, with a positive value of the

Coriolis paramet€r /, as in the Northern Hemisphere. The pr€ssure force is directed

can be balanced by the Coiolis force

down the gradient ofthe height field, and this

ifthe fluid velocity is at right

angles to it. lf/ were nesative, the geostrophic flow .

would be rcversed.




inte ace displacements are related to th€ Iayer thicknesses by

\" = >ht.


Irom th€se er?ressions the momentum equation in each layer is easily constructed,


Geostrophic balance occus in the shallow water equations,

iust as in the continuously

stratified equations, wh€n the Rossby number U/fl is small and th Coriolis term domhates

the advective t€Ims in the momentum equation, In the singte layer shallow water equations the geostrophic flow is:



Thus, the geostrophic velocity is proportional to the alope of the surface, as skerched in

Iig. 3.6. (For the rest of this s€ction, we will drop the subsc ptr, and rake.all velocities to be geostrophic.)

h both the singlelayu and multi-lay€I cases, th€ slope of an intedacial suface is dtecrly

related to the aliffer€nce in pressure gradient on eithei side and so, by geostrophic balance, to the shear of the flow. This is the shalow water analoglle of the thermal wtud relation. To obtain an expr€ssion for this, consider the inteface, ,, betw€en two laye$ Iabelled I arld 2, The prcssure in two layers is given by the hydrostatic relation and so,


p2: A(x,y) p$4 + pzsln - zJ

(at some z in layer l)


3.5 Form Drag

i\p : pzg Lz

Fig.3.7 Margules' relation: using hy'

drostasy, the difference in the horlzon talpressure gradient b€tween the upper and the lower layer ie given by g'prr,

where r = Iand = AzlA! is the in

terface slope and g' = \p,


ceostrophic balance then

sives /(u, -

,r) = 9'J, which is a special case of


where A(x, y) is a function ofintesration. Thus we find


,,t = n'''n'


If the flow is gcostrophically balanced and Boussinesq then, ln each layer, the velocity obeys

Using (3.57) thcn gives

or in general

ft, = lxxvp,.

/(r.rr r.rr r = k\siv4,

f (u" u"-) = kxs;v4.




Tbis is the thermal wind equation for the shallow water system. It applies at any interface,

and it implies the slear rs proportional to the interface slope, a result known as the 'Margules

rclation' (Fig. 3.7).'?

Suppose that we repr€sent lhe atmosphere by two layers of fluid; a me dionally decreas-

itrg temperature may ther bc represented by an intedace that slopcs upwards toward the

pole- Then, in cither h€misphere, !,"e have



s.' Y o,

, r.br,

and th tmperature gradient js associated with a positive shear (se€ problem 3.2).


\lhen the hterface between two layers varies with position that is, when it is $,avy the

layers exert a prcssurc forcc on each other. Similarly, if the bottom of thc fluid is not flat

then the topography and the bottom layer will in general exert forces on each other. This

kind of force is known as /onn drdt and it is an important mcans whcreby momentum can

be added

4r (x,l) and 4r(,.,j',). Then over some zonal interval I

to or cxtracted from a flow3 Consider a layer confin€d between two intedaces,

the average zonal pressure for€c

on that fluid layer is giten by

ir: r,

an u, o'.



Chapt€r 3. Shallow

Water Systems and lsentropic Coordinates

Integrating by parts ffst in z and then in x, and noting that by hydrostasy ap lAz does nor

dep€nd on horizontal position within the layer, we obtain

'r= if,



dx = (ila;

+ n,i


= +p j;



p, r;,


where pr is the pressue at 4r, and similarly for pr, and to obtain the second line ive suppos€

that the integral is around a closed path, such as a cfcle of latitude, and the average is denoted with an overbar. These tems represent the tmnsfer of momentum from one layer to the next, and at a particular intedace, ;, we may define the folm drag, Tr, by

T,=lt,-=-n,- an.



The form dmg is a str€ss and as the layer depth shrinks to z€ro its vertical d€fvative, aTlaz,

is the force (per unit volume) on the fluid, FoIm dlag is a particularly important means for the vertical transfer of mom€ntum and its ultimate removal in an €ddying fluid, and is one

of the main mechanisms whereby the wind sffess at the top of the ocean is cornmunicated

to th€ ocean bottom. At the fluid bottom the form drag is Ftt

wher€ 4, is the bottom

topography, and this is propoflional to the momentum exchange with the solid Ea h. This

is a significant mechanism for th€ ultimat€ removal of momentum in th€ ocean, especially

in the Antarctic Circumpolar Culrent where it is likely to b€ much larger than bonom (or

Ekman) drag arising from small-scale turbulence and friction. In the two-layer, flat-bottomed

case the only folm drag occurrjng is that at the int€face, and the momentum transfer

between rhe larers is just p.ArnAx or -nta pjdi: then. the force on each Ia)€r due ro lhe

other is equal and opposite, as we would e).pect from mom€ntum consenation, (Form drag

is discussed more in an oceanographic context in sections 14.6.3 and 16.6.2.)

For flows in geostrophic balance, the folm drag is related to the meddional heat flux.

p/r' :

ap'lax and the interfacial

The pressure gradient and velocity are related by

displacement is proportional

n . -b I'ablAzl.Thus -anp'rtax

to the temperatue perturbation, ,' lin fact one may show that


u,. a.orresponden.e t}lar will rc ocrur$henhe

consido the -Eliaisen PaIn fux in chapter 7.


There are l!\o cornmon



of conservalion properly m tluds: {i, material in\arjanrs and

integal invariants. Matedal invariance occurs wh€n a property (4 say) is conserved on

each fluid d€mmt, and so ob€ys th€ equation D+lDf : 0. An integral invariant is on€ that is

conseNed followhg an integration over some, usually closed, volume; energy is an example.

3-6.1 Potential vo(icity: a material invariant

The vorticity of a fluid (considered at greater length in chapler 4), denoted ur, is d€fin€d to be the curl of the velocity fidd. Let us also define the shallow water vorticity, ur* , as the curl

of th€ hodzontal velocity. We therefore havel




r (o);i =;F(a) =0.


since F is arbitrary there are an infilte number of materlal invariants corrspondrng to

different choices of F.