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James H. Ruppert Jr.
Fuqing Zhang


An unfiltered zonal Hovmöller depiction of rainfall in the Maritime Continent (MC) reveals remarkable spatiotemporal continuity of zonally propagating disturbances with a diurnal period, which endure over multiple days and propagate faster than the individual convective storms they coupled with. This phenomenon and its sensitivity to the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) during the 2011/12 Dynamics of the MJO (DYNAMO) field campaign is examined here through a well-validated, convection-permitting model simulation conducted on a large domain. We find that these disturbances are zonally propagating diurnal gravity waves excited by vigorous nocturnal mesoscale convective systems over Sumatra and Borneo. These gravity waves are diurnally phase locked: their wavelength very closely matches the distance between these two islands (~1500 km), while their particular zonal phase speed (~±17 m s−1) allows them to propagate this distance in one diurnal cycle. We therefore hypothesize that these waves are amplified by resonant interaction due to diurnal phase locking. While these zonal gravity waves decouple from convection once beyond the MC, their divergent flow signature endures well across the Indian Ocean, provoking the notion that they may influence rainfall at far remote locations. The exact controls over this zonal phase speed remain uncertain; we note, however, that it is roughly consistent with diurnal offshore-propagating modes documented previously. Further study is required to tie this down, and more generally, to understand the sensitivity of these modes to background flow strength and the geography of the MC.

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James H. Ruppert Jr.
Xingchao Chen
, and
Fuqing Zhang


Long-lived, zonally propagating diurnal rainfall disturbances are a highly pronounced and common feature in the Maritime Continent (MC). A recent study argues that these disturbances can be explained as diurnally phase-locked gravity waves. Here we explore the origins of these waves through regional cloud-permitting numerical model experiments. The gravity waves are reproduced and isolated in the model framework through the combined use of realistic geography and diurnally cyclic lateral boundary conditions representative of both characteristic easterly and westerly background zonal flow regimes. These flow regimes are characteristic of the Madden–Julian oscillation (MJO) suppressed and active phase in the MC, respectively. Tests are conducted wherein Borneo, Sumatra, or both islands and/or their orography are removed. These tests imply that the diurnal gravity waves are excited and maintained directly by latent heating from the vigorous mesoscale convective systems (MCSs) that form nocturnally in both Borneo and Sumatra. Removing orography has only a secondary impact on both the MCSs and the gravity waves, implying that it is not critical to these waves. We therefore hypothesize that diurnal gravity waves are fundamentally driven by mesoscale organized deep convection, and are only sensitive to orography to the measure that the convection is affected by the orography and its mesoscale flows. Factor separation further reveals that the nonlinear interaction of synchronized diurnal cycles in Sumatra and Borneo slightly amplifies this gravity wave mode compared to if either island existed in isolation. This nonlinear feedback appears most prominently at longitudes directly between the two islands.

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