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A Synoptic View of the Onset of the Midlatitude QBO Signal

Vered SilvermanaDepartment of Environmental Sciences, Weizmann Institute, Rehovot, Israel

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Sandro W. LubisbRice University, Houston, Texas

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Nili HarnikcSchool of the Environment and Earth Sciences, Tel Aviv University, Tel Aviv, Israel

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Katja MatthesdGEOMAR Helmholtz Centre for Ocean Research Kiel, Kiel, Germany

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Abstract

The extratropical effect of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO), known as the Holton–Tan effect, is manifest as a weaker, warmer winter Arctic polar vortex during the east QBO phase. While previous studies have shown that the extratropical QBO signal is caused by the modified propagation of planetary waves in the stratosphere, the mechanism dominating the onset and seasonal development of the Holton–Tan effects remains unclear. Here, the governing wave–mean flow dynamics of the early winter extratropical QBO signal onset and its reversibility is investigated on a synoptic time scale with a finite-amplitude diagnostic using reanalysis and a chemistry–climate model. The extratropical QBO signal onset in October is found to primarily result from modulated stratospheric life cycles of wave pulses entering the stratosphere from the troposphere, rather than from a modulation of their tropospheric wave source. A comprehensive analysis of the wave activity budget during fall, when the stratospheric winter polar vortex starts forming and waves start propagating up into the stratosphere, shows significant differences. During the east QBO phase, the deceleration of the mid–high-latitude stratospheric zonal-mean jet by the upward-propagating wave pulses is less reversible, due to stronger dissipation processes, while during the west phase, a more reversible deceleration of the main polar vortex is found owing to the waves being dissipated at lower latitudes, accompanied by a weak but different response of the tropospheric subtropical jet. From this synoptic wave-event viewpoint, the early season onset of the Holton–Tan effect results from the cumulative effect of the QBO dependent wave-induced deceleration during the life cycle of individual upward wave pulses.

Significance Statement

The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is the dominant signal in the tropical stratosphere, and its extratropical influence can potentially provide extended seasonal predictability. The midlatitude effect of the QBO discussed in the literature is by modulating upward-propagating planetary waves, focusing on the frequency of polar vortex breakup events (sudden stratospheric warmings) during midwinter. We focus on the overlooked onset of the early winter midlatitude QBO signal, showing a persistent QBO modulation of upward-propagating-wave life cycles. For this we use a diagnostic tailored explicitly to examine the contribution of nonconservative processes to wave-induced deceleration of the mean flow. The findings also provide a demonstration of how fundamental wave–mean flow concepts are manifest under realistic settings. This can aid in improving the midlatitude teleconnection of the QBO in climate simulations, as well as better understanding other processes that influence the midlatitude QBO teleconnection.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Vered Silverman, vered.silverman@gmail.com

Abstract

The extratropical effect of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO), known as the Holton–Tan effect, is manifest as a weaker, warmer winter Arctic polar vortex during the east QBO phase. While previous studies have shown that the extratropical QBO signal is caused by the modified propagation of planetary waves in the stratosphere, the mechanism dominating the onset and seasonal development of the Holton–Tan effects remains unclear. Here, the governing wave–mean flow dynamics of the early winter extratropical QBO signal onset and its reversibility is investigated on a synoptic time scale with a finite-amplitude diagnostic using reanalysis and a chemistry–climate model. The extratropical QBO signal onset in October is found to primarily result from modulated stratospheric life cycles of wave pulses entering the stratosphere from the troposphere, rather than from a modulation of their tropospheric wave source. A comprehensive analysis of the wave activity budget during fall, when the stratospheric winter polar vortex starts forming and waves start propagating up into the stratosphere, shows significant differences. During the east QBO phase, the deceleration of the mid–high-latitude stratospheric zonal-mean jet by the upward-propagating wave pulses is less reversible, due to stronger dissipation processes, while during the west phase, a more reversible deceleration of the main polar vortex is found owing to the waves being dissipated at lower latitudes, accompanied by a weak but different response of the tropospheric subtropical jet. From this synoptic wave-event viewpoint, the early season onset of the Holton–Tan effect results from the cumulative effect of the QBO dependent wave-induced deceleration during the life cycle of individual upward wave pulses.

Significance Statement

The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is the dominant signal in the tropical stratosphere, and its extratropical influence can potentially provide extended seasonal predictability. The midlatitude effect of the QBO discussed in the literature is by modulating upward-propagating planetary waves, focusing on the frequency of polar vortex breakup events (sudden stratospheric warmings) during midwinter. We focus on the overlooked onset of the early winter midlatitude QBO signal, showing a persistent QBO modulation of upward-propagating-wave life cycles. For this we use a diagnostic tailored explicitly to examine the contribution of nonconservative processes to wave-induced deceleration of the mean flow. The findings also provide a demonstration of how fundamental wave–mean flow concepts are manifest under realistic settings. This can aid in improving the midlatitude teleconnection of the QBO in climate simulations, as well as better understanding other processes that influence the midlatitude QBO teleconnection.

© 2021 American Meteorological Society. For information regarding reuse of this content and general copyright information, consult the AMS Copyright Policy (www.ametsoc.org/PUBSReuseLicenses).

Corresponding author: Vered Silverman, vered.silverman@gmail.com
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