Gravity waves in the winter stratosphere over the Southern Ocean: high-resolution satellite observations and 3-D spectral analysis.

Atmospheric gravity waves play a key role in the transfer of energy and momentum between layers of the Earth's atmosphere. However, nearly all Global Circulation Models (GCMs) seriously under-represent the momentum fluxes of gravity waves at latitudes near 60° S. This can result in modelled winter stratospheres that are unrealistically cold – a significant bias known as the "cold-pole problem". There is thus a need for measurements of gravity-wave fluxes near 60S to test and constrain GCMs. Such measurements are notoriously difficult, because they require 3-D observations of wave properties if the fluxes are to be estimated without using significant limiting assumptions. Here we use 3-D satellite measurements of stratospheric gravity waves from NASA's AIRS/Aqua instrument. We present the first extended application of a 3-D Stockwell transform (3DST) method to determine localised gravity-wave amplitudes, wavelengths and directions of propagation around the entire region of the Southern Ocean near 60° S during austral winter 2010. We first validate our method using a synthetic wave field and two case studies of real gravity waves over the Southern Andes and the island of South Georgia. A new technique to overcome wave amplitude attenuation problems in previous methods is also presented. We then characterise large-scale gravity-wave occurrence frequencies, directional momentum fluxes and short-timescale intermittency over the entire Southern Ocean. Our results show that highest wave-occurrence frequencies, amplitudes and momentum fluxes are observed in the stratosphere over the mountains of the Southern Andes and Antarctic Peninsula. However, we find that around 60–80 % of total zonal-mean momentum flux is located over the open Southern Ocean during June–August, where a large "belt" of increased wave-occurrence frequencies, amplitudes and fluxes is observed. Our results also suggest significant short-timescale variability of fluxes from both orographic and non-orographic sources in the region. A particularly striking result is a widespread convergence of gravity-wave momentum fluxes towards latitudes around 60° S from the north and south. We propose that this convergence, which is observed at nearly all longitudes during winter, accounts for a significant part of the under-represented flux in GCMs at these latitudes.


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Authors: Hindley, Neil P., Wright, Corwin J., Smith, Nathan D., Hoffman, Lars, Holt, Laura A., Alexander, M. Joan, Moffat-Griffin, Tracy ORCIDORCID record for Tracy Moffat-Griffin, Mitchell, Nicholas J.

On this site: Tracy Moffat-Griffin
17 December, 2019
Atmospheric Chemistry and Physics / 19
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