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Lina Boljka and Theodore G. Shepherd


Multiscale asymptotic methods are used to derive wave activity equations for planetary- and synoptic-scale eddies and their interactions with a zonal mean flow. The eddies are assumed to be of small amplitude, and the synoptic-scale zonal and meridional length scales are taken to be equal. Under these assumptions, the zonal-mean and planetary-scale dynamics are planetary geostrophic (i.e., dominated by vortex stretching), and the interaction between planetary- and synoptic-scale eddies occurs only through the zonal mean flow or through diabatic processes. Planetary-scale heat fluxes are shown to enter the angular momentum budget through meridional mass redistribution. After averaging over synoptic length and time scales, momentum fluxes disappear from the synoptic-scale wave activity equation while synoptic-scale heat fluxes disappear from the baroclinicity equation, leaving planetary-scale heat fluxes as the only adiabatic term coupling the baroclinic and barotropic components of the zonal mean flow. In the special case of weak planetary waves, the decoupling between the baroclinic and barotropic parts of the flow is complete with momentum fluxes driving the barotropic zonal mean flow, heat fluxes driving the wave activity, and diabatic processes driving baroclinicity. These results help explain the apparent decoupling between the baroclinic and barotropic components of flow variability recently identified in observations and may provide a means of better understanding the link between thermodynamic and dynamic aspects of climate variability and change.

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Lina Boljka, Theodore G. Shepherd, and Michael Blackburn


The baroclinic and barotropic components of atmospheric dynamics are usually viewed as interlinked through the baroclinic life cycle, with baroclinic growth of eddies connected to heat fluxes, barotropic decay connected to momentum fluxes, and the two eddy fluxes connected through the Eliassen–Palm wave activity. However, recent observational studies have suggested that these two components of the dynamics are largely decoupled in their variability, with variations in the zonal mean flow associated mainly with the momentum fluxes, variations in the baroclinic wave activity associated mainly with the heat fluxes, and essentially no correlation between the two. These relationships are examined in a dry dynamical core model under different configurations and in Southern Hemisphere observations, considering different frequency bands to account for the different time scales of atmospheric variability. It is shown that at intermediate periods longer than 10 days, the decoupling of the baroclinic and barotropic modes of variability can indeed occur as the eddy kinetic energy at those time scales is only affected by the heat fluxes and not the momentum fluxes. The baroclinic variability includes the oscillator model with periods of 20–30 days. At both the synoptic time scale and the quasi-steady limit, the baroclinic and barotropic modes of variability are linked, consistent with baroclinic life cycles and the positive baroclinic feedback mechanism, respectively. In the quasi-steady limit, the pulsating modes of variability and their correlations depend sensitively on the model climatology.

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Lina Boljka, David W. J. Thompson, and Ying Li


Baroclinic waves drive both regional variations in weather and large-scale variability in the extratropical general circulation. They generally do not exist in isolation, but rather often form into coherent wave packets that propagate to the east via a mechanism called downstream development. Downstream development has been widely documented and explored. Here we document a novel but also key aspect of baroclinic waves: the downstream suppression of baroclinic activity that occurs in the wake of eastward propagating disturbances. Downstream suppression is apparent not only in the Southern Hemisphere storm track as shown in previous work, but also in the North Pacific and North Atlantic storm tracks. It plays an essential role in driving subseasonal periodicity in extratropical eddy activity in both hemispheres, and gives rise to the observed quiescence of the North Atlantic storm track 1–2 weeks following pronounced eddy activity in the North Pacific sector. It is argued that downstream suppression results from the anomalously low baroclinicity that arises as eastward propagating wave packets convert potential to kinetic energy. In contrast to baroclinic wave packets, which propagate to the east at roughly the group velocity in the upper troposphere, the suppression of baroclinic activity propagates eastward at a slower rate that is comparable to that of the lower to midtropospheric flow. The results have implications for understanding subseasonal variability in the extratropical troposphere of both hemispheres.

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