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In meteorology, a barotropic atmosphere is one in which the pressure depends only on the density and vice versa, so that isobaric surfaces (constant pressure surfaces) are also isopycnic surfaces (constant density surfaces). The isobaric surfaces will also be isothermal surfaces, hence (from the thermal wind equation) the geostrophic wind is independent of height. Hence the motions of a rotating barotropic fluid are strongly constrained.

A barotropic flow is a generalization of the barotropic atmosphere described above: It is a flow in which the pressure is a function of the density only and vice versa. In other words, it is a flow in which isobaric surfaces are isopycnic surfaces and vice versa. One may have a barotropic flow with a non-barotropic fluid, but a barotropic fluid must always follow a barotropic flow. Examples include barotropic layers of the oceans, an isothermal ideal gas or an isentropic ideal gas.

Barotropic fluids are also important idealized fluids in astrophysics, such as in the study of stellar interiors or of the interstellar medium. One common class of barotropic model used in astrophysics is a polytropic fluid. Typically, the barotropic assumption is not very realistic.

Contrast baroclinic. In particular, for a barotropic fluid or a barotropic flow (such as a barotropic atmosphere), the baroclinic vector is always zero.


  • James R Holton, An introduction to dynamic meteorology, ISBN 0-12-354355-X, 3rd edition, p77.
  • Marcel Lesieur, "Turbulence in Fluids: Stochastic and Numerical Modeling", ISBN 0-7923-0645-7, 2e.
  • D. J. Tritton, "Physical Fluid Dynamics", ISBN 0-19-854493-6.

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