Revisiting the Quasi Biennial Oscillation as Seen in ERA5. Part I: Description and Momentum Budget

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  • 1 Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Seattle, Washington
  • 2 Earth System Research Laboratory, NOAA, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

The dynamics and momentum budget of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) are examined in the ERA5 reanalysis. Because of ERA5’s higher spatial resolution compared to its predecessors, it is capable of resolving a broader spectrum of atmospheric waves and allows for a better representation of the wave-mean flow interactions, both of which are of crucial importance for QBO studies. It is shown that the QBO-induced mean meridional circulation, which is mainly confined to the winter hemisphere, is strong enough to interrupt the tropical upwelling during the descent of the westerly shear zones. Since the momentum advection tends to damp the QBO, the wave forcing is responsible for both the downward propagation and for the maintenance of the QBO. It is shown that half the required wave forcing is provided by resolved waves during the descent of both westerly and easterly regimes. Planetary-scale waves account for most of the resolved wave forcing of the descent of westerly shear zones and small-scale gravity (SSG) waves with wavelengths shorter than 2000 km account for the remainder. SSG waves account for most of the resolved forcing of the descent of the easterly shear zones. The representation of the mean fields in the QBO is very similar in ERA5 and ERA-I but the resolved wave forcing is substantially stronger in ERA5. The contributions of the various equatorially-trapped wave modes to the QBO forcing are documented in Part II.

Corresponding author address: Hamid A. Pahlavan, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail: pahlavan@uw.edu

Abstract

The dynamics and momentum budget of the quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) are examined in the ERA5 reanalysis. Because of ERA5’s higher spatial resolution compared to its predecessors, it is capable of resolving a broader spectrum of atmospheric waves and allows for a better representation of the wave-mean flow interactions, both of which are of crucial importance for QBO studies. It is shown that the QBO-induced mean meridional circulation, which is mainly confined to the winter hemisphere, is strong enough to interrupt the tropical upwelling during the descent of the westerly shear zones. Since the momentum advection tends to damp the QBO, the wave forcing is responsible for both the downward propagation and for the maintenance of the QBO. It is shown that half the required wave forcing is provided by resolved waves during the descent of both westerly and easterly regimes. Planetary-scale waves account for most of the resolved wave forcing of the descent of westerly shear zones and small-scale gravity (SSG) waves with wavelengths shorter than 2000 km account for the remainder. SSG waves account for most of the resolved forcing of the descent of the easterly shear zones. The representation of the mean fields in the QBO is very similar in ERA5 and ERA-I but the resolved wave forcing is substantially stronger in ERA5. The contributions of the various equatorially-trapped wave modes to the QBO forcing are documented in Part II.

Corresponding author address: Hamid A. Pahlavan, Department of Atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington, Box 351640, Seattle, WA 98195. E-mail: pahlavan@uw.edu
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