On the validity of single-parcel energetics to assess the importance of internal energy and compressibility effects in stratified fluids

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Tailleux, Remi (2015)

It is often assumed on the basis of single-parcel energetics that compressible effects and conversions with internal energy are negligible whenever typical displacements of fluid parcels are small relative to the scale height of the fluid (defined as the ratio of the\ud squared speed of sound over gravitational acceleration). This paper shows that the above approach is flawed, however, and that a correct assessment of compressible effects and internal energy conversions requires considering the energetics of at least two parcels, or more generally, of mass conserving parcel re-arrangements. As a consequence, it is shown that it is the adiabatic lapse rate and its derivative with respect to pressure, rather than the scale height, which controls the relative importance of compressible effects and internal energy conversions when considering the global energy budget of a stratied fluid. Only when mass conservation is properly accounted for is it possible to explain why available internal energy can account for up to 40 percent of the total available potential energy in the oceans. This is considerably larger than the prediction of single-parcel energetics, according to which this number should be no more than about 2 percent.
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