An unusual atmospheric vortex street


Atmospheric vortex streets quite often form in the wake of tall islands in the marine atmospheric boundary layer. Most satellite pictures of this phenomenon show that two rows of staggered, counter-rotating vortices are aligned more or less in a straight line downstream of the islands, like Kármán vortex streets behind cylindrical obstacles. In this paper however, an unusual downstream behaviour of an atmospheric vortex street in the wake of Heard Island is discussed, where there is a sudden change in orientation of the vortices downwind of the island. The reason for this development can be traced to a special synoptic weather situation.

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Fig. 1

Source: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Fig. 2

Source: Heinze et al. [9]

Fig. 3

Source: NOAA/ESRL Physical Science Division

Fig. 4
Fig. 5

Source: Jeff Schmaltz, MODIS Rapid Response Team, NASA/GSFC

Fig. 6

Source: NOAA/ESRL Physical Science Division

Fig. 7


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Images from the NCEP Reanalysis described in “Kalnay, E. and Coauthors, 1996: The NCEP/NCAR Reanalysis 40-year Project. Bull. Amer. Meteor. Soc., 77, 437–471.” are provided by the NOAA/ESRL Physical Sciences Division, Boulder Colorado from their Web site at

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Correspondence to Dieter Etling.

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Etling, D. An unusual atmospheric vortex street. Environ Fluid Mech 19, 1379–1391 (2019).

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  • Island wakes
  • Marine boundary layer
  • Vortex street
  • Kármán vortex street