Although it is well known that the persistence of extratropical jet shifts is enhanced by a positive eddy feedback, the dynamics of this feedback is still debated. Two types of mechanisms have been proposed: barotropic mechanisms rely on changes in upper-level propagation and baroclinic mechanisms rely on the coupling between barotropic and baroclinic flow. Recent studies have suggested that barotropic models can capture key aspects of the observed jet variability but the role of baroclinic dynamics has been less explored.
This study investigates the temporal relations between barotropic and baroclinic anomalies and their eddy forcings during the internal variability of the simple two-layer quasigeostrophic model. A large correlation is found between barotropic and baroclinic anomalies and between the meridional and vertical components of the Eliassen–Palm divergence, especially at low frequency. The low-frequency variability is consistent with the baroclinic mechanism: persistent upper-level eddy momentum convergence is associated with (and precedes) persistent anomalies in the poleward eddy heat flux. In contrast, at high frequency, poleward heat flux anomalies are associated with eddy momentum divergence aloft and both eddy forcings have same-sign contributions to the upper-level eddy potential vorticity (PV) flux. In this limit the eddy PV flux is associated with wave activity transience as effective diffusivity is too small to dissipate the wave–mean flow interaction term.
The large correlation between barotropic and baroclinic anomalies implies that the low-frequency variability of barotropic flow may be affected by thermal damping when this damping is sufficiently strong. For example, zonal index persistence drops drastically in our model when baroclinicity shifts are prevented by strong thermal restoration.