Mesoscale Cyclone Activity over the Ice-Free Southern Ocean: 1999–2008

Damien Irving School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Ian Simmonds School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Kevin Keay School of Earth Sciences, The University of Melbourne, Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

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Abstract

Mesoscale cyclones play an important role in the weather and climate of the Southern Hemisphere (SH) mid-to-high latitudes. However, the relatively small size and short lifetime of these systems, combined with the lack of available conventional data in this region, means that there is a poor understanding of their climatological characteristics. In this study, the University of Melbourne cyclone-finding algorithm was applied to relatively high-resolution scatterometer-derived surface pressure fields, obtained from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, to produce a decade-long (1999–2008) seasonal climatology of mesoscale cyclone activity over the ice-free regions of the Southern Ocean.

The frequency of mesoscale cyclone activity was found to be highest just to the north of the sea ice zone, reaching a maximum over the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas (ABS), while the southern Indian Ocean was associated with systems of the largest depth, intensity, and momentum flux at the ocean surface. These spatial patterns in mean mesoscale cyclone characteristics showed a broad resemblance to those reported in existing synoptic-scale cyclone climatologies. Maximum wind speed data indicated that SH polar lows may be more frequent than the current literature suggests, while strong positive trends identified in mesoscale cyclone frequency over the ABS may represent a contributing factor to the rapid warming observed in that region over recent years. Partial correlation analyses indicated a link between mesoscale cyclone frequency and the southern annular mode.

Corresponding author address: Damien Irving, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Private Bag 1, Aspendale, VIC 3195, Australia. Email: damien.irving@csiro.au

Abstract

Mesoscale cyclones play an important role in the weather and climate of the Southern Hemisphere (SH) mid-to-high latitudes. However, the relatively small size and short lifetime of these systems, combined with the lack of available conventional data in this region, means that there is a poor understanding of their climatological characteristics. In this study, the University of Melbourne cyclone-finding algorithm was applied to relatively high-resolution scatterometer-derived surface pressure fields, obtained from the Department of Atmospheric Sciences at the University of Washington, to produce a decade-long (1999–2008) seasonal climatology of mesoscale cyclone activity over the ice-free regions of the Southern Ocean.

The frequency of mesoscale cyclone activity was found to be highest just to the north of the sea ice zone, reaching a maximum over the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas (ABS), while the southern Indian Ocean was associated with systems of the largest depth, intensity, and momentum flux at the ocean surface. These spatial patterns in mean mesoscale cyclone characteristics showed a broad resemblance to those reported in existing synoptic-scale cyclone climatologies. Maximum wind speed data indicated that SH polar lows may be more frequent than the current literature suggests, while strong positive trends identified in mesoscale cyclone frequency over the ABS may represent a contributing factor to the rapid warming observed in that region over recent years. Partial correlation analyses indicated a link between mesoscale cyclone frequency and the southern annular mode.

Corresponding author address: Damien Irving, CSIRO Marine and Atmospheric Research, Private Bag 1, Aspendale, VIC 3195, Australia. Email: damien.irving@csiro.au

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