We used newly available ERA5 hourly global data to examine the variations of atmospheric circulation on global scales and high frequencies. The space–time spectrum of surface pressure displays a typical red background spectrum but also a striking number of isolated peaks. Some peaks represent astronomically forced tides, but we show that most peaks are manifestations of the ringing of randomly excited global-scale resonant modes, reminiscent of the tones in a spectrum of a vibrating musical instrument. A few such modes have been tentatively identified in earlier observational investigations, but we demonstrate the existence of a large array of normal mode oscillations with periods as short as 2 h. This is a powerful and uniquely detailed confirmation of the predictions of the theory of global oscillations that has its roots in the work of Laplace two centuries ago. The delineation of the properties of the modes provides valuable diagnostic information about the atmospheric circulation. Notably the amplitudes and widths of the normal mode spectral peaks contain information on the forcing mechanisms and energy dissipation for the modes, and the simulation of these properties for each of the many modes we have identified can serve as tests for global climate and weather prediction models.

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