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Enhancement of Rossby Wave Breaking by Steep Potential Vorticity Gradients in the Winter Stratosphere

R. K. ScottDepartment of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York, New York

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D. G. Dritschel School of Mathematics and Statistics, University of St. Andrews, St. Andrews, United Kingdom

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L. M. Polvani Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics, Columbia University, New York, New York

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D. W. Waugh Department of Earth and Planetary Sciences, The Johns Hopkins University, Baltimore, Maryland

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Abstract

This work investigates the extent to which potential vorticity gradients affect the vertical propagation of planetary-scale Rossby waves on the edge of a stratospheric polar vortex and their eventual nonlinear saturation and breaking. Using two different numerical modeling approaches, it is shown that wave propagation and wave breaking are significantly reduced when the potential vorticity gradients at the vortex edge are anomalously weak. The efficiency of the first model, based on high-resolution contour dynamics, permits a full exploration of the parameter space of wave forcing amplitude and edge steepness. A more realistic primitive equation model in spherical geometry both confirms the contour dynamics results and highlights some direct implications for stratospheric modeling in more comprehensive models. The results suggest that stratospheric models using horizontal resolutions of spectral T42 or less may significantly underestimate the vertical propagation and breaking of planetary waves, and may consequently misrepresent such important stratospheric processes as the mean meridional circulation, sudden warmings, and the mixing of chemically distinct polar and midlatitude air.

Corresponding author address: Richard Scott, Northwest Research Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 3027, Bellevue, WA 98009-3027.Email: scott@nwra.com

Abstract

This work investigates the extent to which potential vorticity gradients affect the vertical propagation of planetary-scale Rossby waves on the edge of a stratospheric polar vortex and their eventual nonlinear saturation and breaking. Using two different numerical modeling approaches, it is shown that wave propagation and wave breaking are significantly reduced when the potential vorticity gradients at the vortex edge are anomalously weak. The efficiency of the first model, based on high-resolution contour dynamics, permits a full exploration of the parameter space of wave forcing amplitude and edge steepness. A more realistic primitive equation model in spherical geometry both confirms the contour dynamics results and highlights some direct implications for stratospheric modeling in more comprehensive models. The results suggest that stratospheric models using horizontal resolutions of spectral T42 or less may significantly underestimate the vertical propagation and breaking of planetary waves, and may consequently misrepresent such important stratospheric processes as the mean meridional circulation, sudden warmings, and the mixing of chemically distinct polar and midlatitude air.

Corresponding author address: Richard Scott, Northwest Research Associates, Inc., P.O. Box 3027, Bellevue, WA 98009-3027.Email: scott@nwra.com

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