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Aaron Match and Stephan Fueglistaler

Abstract

The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is a descending pattern of winds in the stratosphere that vanishes near the top of the tropical tropopause layer, even though the vertically propagating waves that drive the QBO are thought to originate in the troposphere several kilometers below. The region where there is low QBO power despite sufficient vertically propagating wave activity to drive a QBO is known as the buffer zone. Classical one-dimensional models of the QBO are ill suited to represent buffer zone dynamics because they enforce the attenuation of the QBO via a zero-wind lower boundary condition. The formation of the buffer zone is investigated by analyzing momentum budgets in the reanalyses MERRA-2 and ERA-Interim. The buffer zone must be formed by weak wave-driven acceleration and/or cancellation of the wave-driven acceleration. This paper shows that in MERRA-2 weak wave-driven acceleration is insufficient to form the buffer zone, so cancellation of the wave-driven acceleration must play a role. The cancellation results from damping of angular momentum anomalies, primarily due to horizontal mean and horizontal eddy momentum flux divergence, with secondary contributions from the Coriolis torque and vertical mean momentum flux divergence. The importance of the damping terms highlights the role of the buffer zone as the mediator of angular momentum exchange between the QBO domain and the far field. Some far-field angular momentum anomalies reach the solid Earth, leading to the well-documented lagged correlation between the QBO and the length of day.

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Aaron Match and Stephan Fueglistaler

Abstract

The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is a descending pattern of alternating easterly and westerly winds in the tropical stratosphere. Upwelling is generally understood to counteract the descent of the QBO. The upwelling hypothesis holds that where upwelling exceeds the intrinsic descent rate of the QBO, the QBO cannot descend and a buffer zone forms. Descent-rate models of the QBO, which represent a highly simplified evolution of a QBO wind contour, support the upwelling hypothesis. Here, we show that the upwelling hypothesis and descent-rate models only correctly describe buffer zone formation in the absence of wave dissipation below critical levels. When there is wave dissipation below critical levels, the 1D QBO response to upwelling can be either to 1) reform below the upwelling, 2) undergo period-lengthening collapse, or 3) expand a preexisting buffer zone. The response depends on the location of the upwelling and the lower boundary condition. Mean-flow damping always forms a buffer zone. A previous study of reanalyses showed that there is mean-flow damping in the buffer zone due to horizontal momentum flux divergence. Therefore, the 1D model implicates lateral terms in buffer zone formation that it cannot self-consistently include.

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Aaron Match and Stephan Fueglistaler

Abstract

The quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is an alternating, descending pattern of zonal winds in the tropical stratosphere with a period averaging 28 months. The QBO was disrupted in 2016, and arguably again in 2020, by the formation of an anomalous easterly shear zone, and unprecedented stagnation and ascent of shear zones aloft. Several mechanisms have been implicated in causing the 2016 disruption, most notably triggering by horizontal eddy momentum flux divergence, but also anomalous upwelling and wave stress. In this paper, the 1D theory of the QBO is used to show how seemingly disparate features of disruptions follow directly from the dynamics of the QBO response to triggering. The perturbed QBO is interpreted using a heuristic version of the 1D model, which establishes that 1) stagnation of shear zones aloft resulted from wave dissipation in the shear zone formed by the triggering, and 2) ascent of shear zones aloft resulted from climatological upwelling advecting the stagnant shear zones. Obstacles remain in the theory of triggering. In the 1D theory, the phasing of the triggering is key to determining the response, but the dependence on magnitude is less steep. Yet in MERRA-2, there are triggering events only 20% weaker than the 2016 triggering and equal to the 2020 triggering that did not lead to disruptions. Complicating matters further, MERRA-2 has record-large analysis tendencies during the 2016 disruption, reducing confidence in the resolved momentum budget.

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Amy H. Butler, Dian J. Seidel, Steven C. Hardiman, Neal Butchart, Thomas Birner, and Aaron Match

Abstract

Sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) are large, rapid temperature rises in the winter polar stratosphere, occurring predominantly in the Northern Hemisphere. Major SSWs are also associated with a reversal of the climatological westerly zonal-mean zonal winds. Circulation anomalies associated with SSWs can descend into the troposphere with substantial surface weather impacts, such as wintertime extreme cold air outbreaks. After their discovery in 1952, SSWs were classified by the World Meteorological Organization. An examination of literature suggests that a single, original reference for an exact definition of SSWs is elusive, but in many references a definition involves the reversal of the meridional temperature gradient and, for major warmings, the reversal of the zonal circulation poleward of 60° latitude at 10 hPa.

Though versions of this definition are still commonly used to detect SSWs, the details of the definition and its implementation remain ambiguous. In addition, other SSW definitions have been used in the last few decades, resulting in inconsistent classification of SSW events. We seek to answer the questions: How has the SSW definition changed, and how sensitive is the detection of SSWs to the definition used? For what kind of analysis is a “standard” definition useful? We argue that a standard SSW definition is necessary for maintaining a consistent and robust metric to assess polar stratospheric wintertime variability in climate models and other statistical applications. To provide a basis for, and to encourage participation in, a communitywide discussion currently underway, we explore what criteria are important for a standard definition and propose possible ways to update the definition.

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