Researcher, Colleagues Discover New Class of Waves

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (Oct. 15, 2008) University of South Florida College of Marine Science Associate Professor Boris Galperin and colleagues have discovered and named a new class of waves. The waves, which they have called “zonons,” were discovered through computer simulations carried out after satellite observations, terrestrial oceans and space craft surveillance of the atmospheres of some giant planets revealed the presence of eddy-like structures moving with the same speed as planetary waves called “Rossby waves.”

Rossby waves, discovered in 1939, are described as giant meanders in high-altitude winds that emerge due to the variable rate of planetary rotation with the latitude. Zonons, the newly discovered waves, move with the same speed as Rossby waves, but they have strikingly different properties. Galperin and colleagues describe the physics of zonons in Physical Review Letters (Vol. 101:16), a journal of the American Physical Society. They suggest that zonons play an important role in the formation and maintenance of zonal jets and zonostrophic turbulence, the basic flow regime also introduced by them and supposedly underlying large scale circulation on giant planets and in Earth’s oceans.

With the discovery of zonons, Galperin and his colleagues, Semion Sukoriansky and Nadejda Dikovskaya, both of the Department of Mechanical Engineering and Pearlstone Center for Aeronautical Engineering Studies, Ben-Gurion University of the Negev, Beer-Sheva, Israel, offer a new way to understand circulation in the oceans and in the weather layers of giant planets.

“The zonons are a product of a strong interaction among linear Rossby waves in a highly anisotropic, (referring to properties that differ based on the direction in which a measurement is taken) turbulent environment,” said Galperin.

At issue in their research was whether the observed phenomena were nonlinear “eddies,” or linear waves, such as Rossby waves. Distinguishing between the two is difficult because of space and time requirements in sampling, Galperin said.

The discovery of zonons will have application in understanding and predicting ocean currents as well as atmospheric circulation observed on giant planets in our Solar System.

In previous research, Galperin and his colleagues examined the nature of the banded appearance of the giant planets’ disks and explained how and why currents in Jupiter’s and Saturn’s circulating atmospheric bands are similar in nature to movement of deep ocean currents on Earth.

The University of South Florida is one of the nation's top 63 public research universities and one of 39 community engaged four-year public universities as designated by the Carnegie Foundation for the Advancement of Teaching. USF was awarded more than $360 million in research contracts and grants in FY 2007/2008. The University offers 219 degree programs at the undergraduate, graduate, specialist and doctoral levels, including the doctor of medicine. The University has a $1.8 billion annual budget, an annual economic impact of $3.2 billion, and serves more than 46,000 students on campuses in Tampa, St. Petersburg, Sarasota-Manatee and Lakeland. USF is a member of the Big East Athletic Conference.

– USF –

News release by Randolph Fillmore