Formation of solitary zonal structures via the modulational instability of drift waves

Zhou, Yao ; Zhu, Hongxuan ; Dodin, I. Y.
Issue date: 2019
Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International (CC BY)
Cite as:
Zhou, Yao, Zhu, Hongxuan, & Dodin, I. Y. (2019). Formation of solitary zonal structures via the modulational instability of drift waves [Data set]. Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Princeton University.
  author      = {Zhou, Yao and
                Zhu, Hongxuan and
                Dodin, I. Y.},
  title       = {{Formation of solitary zonal structures v
                ia the modulational instability of drift
  publisher   = {{Princeton Plasma Physics Laboratory, Pri
                nceton University}},
  year        = 2019,
  url         = {}

The dynamics of the radial envelope of a weak coherent drift-wave (DW) is approximately governed by a nonlinear Schrödinger equation (NLSE), which emerges as a limit of the modified Hasegawa–Mima equation (mHME). The NLSE has well-known soliton solutions, and its modulational instability (MI) can naturally generate solitary structures. In this paper, we demonstrate that this simple model can adequately describe the formation of solitary zonal structures in the mHME, but only when the amplitude of the coherent DW is relatively small. At larger amplitudes, the MI produces stationary zonal structures instead. Furthermore, we find that incoherent DWs with beam-like spectra can also be modulationally unstable to the formation of solitary or stationary zonal structures, depending on the beam intensity. Notably, we show that these DWs can be modeled as quantum-like particles ('driftons') within a recently developed phase-space (Wigner–Moyal) formulation, which intuitively depicts the solitary zonal structures as quasi-monochromatic drifton condensates. Quantum-like effects, such as diffraction, are essential to these condensates; hence, the latter cannot be described by wave-kinetic models that are based on the ray approximation.

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