Oceanic and atmospheric dynamics are often interpreted through potential vorticity, as this quantity is conserved along the geostrophic flow. However, in addition to potential vorticity, surface buoyancy is a conserved quantity, and this also affects the dynamics. Buoyancy at the ocean surface or at the atmospheric tropopause plays the same role of an active tracer as potential vorticity does since the velocity field can be deduced from these quantities. The surface quasi-geostrophic model has been proposed to explain the dynamics associated with surface buoyancy conservation and seems appealing for both the ocean and the atmosphere. In this review, we present its main characteristics in terms of coherent structures, instabilities and turbulent cascades. Furthermore, this model is mathematically studied for the possible formation of singularities, as it presents some analogies with three-dimensional Euler equations. Finally, we discuss its relevance for the ocean and the atmosphere.
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