**Review status**: this preprint is currently under review for the journal WCD.

# A vorticity-and-stability diagram as a means to study potential vorticity nonconservation

Gabriel Vollenweider, Elisa Spreitzer, and Sebastian Schemm

Received: 01 Jun 2021 – Accepted for review: 29 Jun 2021 – Discussion started: 29 Jun 2021

**Abstract.** The study of atmospheric circulation from a potential vorticity (PV) perspective has advanced our mechanistic understanding of the development and propagation of weather systems. The formation of PV anomalies by nonconservative processes can provide additional insight into the diabatic-to-adiabatic coupling in the atmosphere. PV nonconservation can be driven by changes in static stability, vorticity or a combination of both. For example, in the presence of localized latent heating, the static stability increases below the level of maximum heating and decreases above this level. However, the vorticity changes in response to the changes in static stability (and vice versa), making it difficult to disentangle stability from vorticity-driven PV changes. Further diabatic processes, such as friction or turbulent momentum mixing, result in momentum-driven, and hence vorticity-driven, PV changes in the absence of moist diabatic processes. In this study, a vorticity-and-stability diagram is introduced as a means to study and identify periods of stability- and vorticity-driven changes in PV. Potential insights and limitations from such a hyperbolic diagram are investigated based on three case studies. The first case is an idealized warm conveyor belt (WCB) in a baroclinic channel simulation. The simulation allows only condensation and evaporation. In this idealized case, PV along the WCB is first conserved, while stability decreases and vorticity increases as the air parcels move poleward near the surface in the cyclone warm sector. The subsequent PV modification and increase during the strong WCB ascent is, at low levels, dominated by an increase in static stability. However, the following PV decrease at upper levels is due to a decrease in absolute vorticity with only small changes in static stability. The vorticity decrease occurs first at a rate of 0.5 *f* per hour and later decreases to approximately 0.25 *f* per hour, while static stability is fairly well conserved throughout the period of PV reduction. One possible explanation for this observation is the combined influence of diabatic and adiabatic processes on vorticity and static stability. At upper levels, large-scale divergence ahead of the trough leads to a negative vorticity tendency and a positive static stability tendency. In a dry atmosphere, the two changes would occur in tandem to conserve PV. In the case of additional diabatic heating in the mid troposphere, the positive static stability tendency caused by the dry dynamics appears to be offset by the diabatic tendency to reduce the static stability above the level of maximum heating. This combination of diabatically and adiabatically driven static stability changes leads to its conservation, while the adiabatically forced negative vorticity tendency continues. Hence, PV is not conserved and reduces along the upper branch of the WCB. Second, in a fullfledged real case study with the Integrated Forecasting System (IFS), the PV changes along the WCB appear to be dominated by vorticity changes throughout the flow of the air. However, accumulated PV tendencies are dominated by latent heat release from the large-scale cloud and convection schemes, which mainly produce temperature tendencies. The absolute vorticity decrease during the period of PV reduction lasts for several hours, and is first in the order of 0.5 *f* per hour and later decreases to 0.1f per hour when latent heat release becomes small, while static stability reduces moderately. PV and absolute vorticity turn negative after several hours. In a third case study of an air parcel impinging on the warm front of an extratropical cyclone, changes in the horizontal PV components dominate the total PV change along the flow and thereby violate a key approximation of the two-dimensional vorticity-and-stability diagram. In such a situation where the PV change cannot be approximated by its vertical component, a higher-dimensional vorticity-and-stability diagram is required. Nevertheless, the vorticity-and-stability diagram can provide supplementary insights into the nature of diabatic PV changes.