On the Development of Blocking Ridge Activity Over the Central North Pacific

W. B. White Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego 92037

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N. E. Clark Scripps Institution of Oceanography, University of California, San Diego 92037

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Abstract

Monthly mean atmospheric data taken over the North Pacific during the period 1950–70 are used to investigate blocking ridge activity over the central ocean. The blocking ridge is observed to be a finite-amplitude, quasi-stationary long wave, most often centered over the North Pacific at 170W, superimposed upon the quasi-zonal mid-latitude westerlies. The dominant length scale is 7000 km, the same dimensions as the width of the mid-latitude ocean. The growth time scale is 1–2 weeks, with the duration of blocking activity rarely exceeding 2 months in any given year. The blocking activity is confined almost exclusively to the autumn/winter months, where block development is closely coupled with the sensible heat transfer from the underlying ocean (anomalously small beat transfer under the ridge and anomalously large heat transfer under the associated troughs). Year-to-year variability in blocking ridge activity is found to have a dominant time scale of approximately 5 years from 1950–70 and to be inversely correlated (−0.79) with the strength of the autumn/winter mean mid-latitude westerlies (the mean formed using months not containing blocking activity). Further analysis shows that both blocking ridge activity and the strength of the westerly winds fluctuate together with the Southern Oscillation over this time period.

These space/time scale considerations suggest that this regional blocking activity owes its existence to the marine environment. To test this idea, appeal is made to some theoretical work by Haltiner, where the baroclinic instability process was modified by sensible heat transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere. Haltiner found that for normal winter values of the background flow, the otherwise stable stationary long wave became unstable when sensible heat transfer was allowed. The wavelength for the unstable stationary wave was 7000–8000 km with a growth time scale of approximately 2 weeks. The scales are similar to that of blocking ridge activity over the North Pacific.

In addition to good scale agreement with observations, Haltiner's theory is able to explain both the seasonal and year-to-year variability in blocking activity in terms of corresponding fluctuations in sensible heat transfer and the strength of the mean westerly winds.

Abstract

Monthly mean atmospheric data taken over the North Pacific during the period 1950–70 are used to investigate blocking ridge activity over the central ocean. The blocking ridge is observed to be a finite-amplitude, quasi-stationary long wave, most often centered over the North Pacific at 170W, superimposed upon the quasi-zonal mid-latitude westerlies. The dominant length scale is 7000 km, the same dimensions as the width of the mid-latitude ocean. The growth time scale is 1–2 weeks, with the duration of blocking activity rarely exceeding 2 months in any given year. The blocking activity is confined almost exclusively to the autumn/winter months, where block development is closely coupled with the sensible heat transfer from the underlying ocean (anomalously small beat transfer under the ridge and anomalously large heat transfer under the associated troughs). Year-to-year variability in blocking ridge activity is found to have a dominant time scale of approximately 5 years from 1950–70 and to be inversely correlated (−0.79) with the strength of the autumn/winter mean mid-latitude westerlies (the mean formed using months not containing blocking activity). Further analysis shows that both blocking ridge activity and the strength of the westerly winds fluctuate together with the Southern Oscillation over this time period.

These space/time scale considerations suggest that this regional blocking activity owes its existence to the marine environment. To test this idea, appeal is made to some theoretical work by Haltiner, where the baroclinic instability process was modified by sensible heat transfer from the ocean to the atmosphere. Haltiner found that for normal winter values of the background flow, the otherwise stable stationary long wave became unstable when sensible heat transfer was allowed. The wavelength for the unstable stationary wave was 7000–8000 km with a growth time scale of approximately 2 weeks. The scales are similar to that of blocking ridge activity over the North Pacific.

In addition to good scale agreement with observations, Haltiner's theory is able to explain both the seasonal and year-to-year variability in blocking activity in terms of corresponding fluctuations in sensible heat transfer and the strength of the mean westerly winds.

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