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Heini Wernli and Michael Sprenger

Abstract

A novel approach is introduced to identify potential vorticity (PV) streamers and cutoffs as indicators of Rossby wave breaking near the extratropical tropopause and to compile climatologies of these features on different isentropic surfaces. The method is based on a contour searching algorithm that identifies the dynamical tropopause [2 potential vorticity units (PVU; PVU ≡ 1 × 10−6 K kg−1 m2 s−1) isoline] on isentropic surfaces. The contour is then analyzed to search for cutoffs and filament-like streamers. Whereas the identification of cutoffs is unambiguous, the one for streamers requires the specification of two parameters that determine the width and length of the contour feature to be classified as a streamer. This technique has been applied to the PV distribution in the Northern Hemisphere on isentropes from 295 to 360 K during the time period from 1979 to 1993 using the 15-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-15).

The climatology reveals a pronounced zonal asymmetry in the occurrence of PV streamers and cutoffs. On all isentropes considered there are clear frequency maxima whose location changes with altitude. For instance, in winter and on the 300-K isentrope, stratospheric streamers and cutoffs occur most frequently near 50°–60°N over the western side of Canada and Siberia. On higher isentropes, the maxima are located farther south and at the downstream end of the storm-track regions. Considering continental areas, the Mediterranean appears as a region with particularly abundant PV features. As noted in previous studies, there is a significant seasonal cycle if considering the frequency of PV features on individual isentropes. It is shown that this is mainly due to the seasonal cycle in the location of the isentropes themselves. Comparing the streamer and cutoff frequencies during different seasons on isentropes that are comparably located in the zonal mean yields a fairly robust pattern with almost no seasonal cycle. This indicates on the one hand that care should be taken when considering the seasonal cycle of dynamical processes on isentropes and on the other hand that Rossby wave breaking occurs year-round with almost constant frequency. A quantitative statistical analysis of individual PV features reveals that stratospheric and tropospheric streamers often occur in pairs.

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Michael Sprenger, Heini Wernli, and Michel Bourqui

Abstract

Two distinct dynamical processes near the dynamical tropopause (2-PVU surface) and their relation are discussed in this study: stratosphere–troposphere exchange (STE) and the formation of distinct potential vorticity (PV) structures in the form of stratospheric and tropospheric streamers and cutoffs on isentropic surfaces. Two previously compiled climatologies based upon the 15-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts Re-Analysis (ERA-15) dataset (from 1979 to 1993) are used to establish and quantify the link between STE and these PV structures.

An event-based analysis reveals a strong relation between the two processes. For instance, on isentropes below 320 K, 30%–50% of the stratospheric streamers are associated with downward STE. In the reverse perspective, between 60% and 80% of all STE events between 290 and 350 K are found in the vicinity of at least one PV structure. On different isentropes, the averaged downward (STT) and upward (TST) mass fluxes associated with PV structures are quantified.

As a novel quantity, the activity of a particular PV structure is measured as the STT/TST flux per unit length of its boundary on the considered isentropic level. The STT activity for stratospheric streamers and the TST activity of tropospheric streamers reach similar values of 3 × 109 kg km−1 h−1. Thereby, the flux is not uniformly distributed along a streamer’s boundary. STT (TST) is found preferentially on the upstream (downstream) side of stratospheric streamers, and vice versa for tropospheric streamers. This asymmetry is lost for cutoffs, for which an essentially uniform distribution results along the boundaries.

Finally, the link between STE and PV structures shows considerable geographical variability. Particularly striking is the fact that nearly all deep STT events (reaching levels below 700 hPa) over central Europe and the North American west coast are associated with a stratospheric streamer.

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Sebastian Schemm, Michael Sprenger, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

For nearly a century, the study of atmospheric dynamics in the midlatitudes has presented dichotomic perspectives on one of its focal points: the birth and life cycle of cyclones. In particular, the role of fronts has driven much of the historical discourse on cyclogenesis. In the 1910s–20s, the Bergen School of Meteorology postulated that cyclogenesis occurs on a preexisting front. This concept was later replaced by the baroclinic instability paradigm, which describes the development of a surface front as a consequence of the growing cyclone rather than its cause. However, there is ample observational evidence for cyclogenesis on well-marked fronts (frontal-wave cyclones) as well as for cyclogenesis in the absence of fronts in broader baroclinic zones. Thus, after a century of research on the link between extratropical cyclones and fronts, this study has the objective of climatologically quantifying their relationship. By combining identification schemes for cyclones and fronts, the fraction of cyclones with attendant fronts is quantified at all times during the cyclones’ life cycle. The storm-track regions over the North Atlantic are dominated by cyclones that form on preexisting fronts. Over the North Pacific, the result more strongly depends on the front definition. Cyclones that acquire their fronts during the life cycle dominate over the continents and in the Mediterranean. Further, cyclones that develop attendant fronts during their life cycle typically do so around the time they attain maximum intensity. At the time of cyclolysis, at least 40% of all cyclones are still associated with a front. The number of occluded fronts at lysis has not been considered.

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Linda Schlemmer, Olivia Martius, Michael Sprenger, Cornelia Schwierz, and Arwen Twitchett

Abstract

Extreme precipitation events along the Alpine south side (AS) are often forced by upper-level positive potential vorticity (PV) anomalies over western Europe. These so-called PV streamers go along with a dynamical forcing for upward motion, a reduction of the static stability in the troposphere (hence facilitating convection), and are associated with low-level winds that transport moisture toward the Alps.

A case of heavy precipitation is examined using the 40-yr ECMWF Re-Analysis data. Piecewise PV inversion (PPVI) and the limited-area Climate High Resolution Model (CHRM) are used to assess the influences of mesoscale parts of the streamer on the precipitation event. The impacts on the vertical stability are quantified by the convective available potential energy (CAPE) and an index of static stability. Very sensitive areas in terms of the stability are located beneath the southern tip of the streamer; smaller changes in the stability are observed in the Alpine region.

The moisture transport toward the Alps is sensitive to the amplitude of the streamer, which influences the amount of water that can be transported along its eastern flank.

The impacts of the topography on the flow are assessed by calculating an average inverse Froude number. Whether or not the air parcels are blocked by or lifted over the barrier (going along with suppressed and enhanced precipitation, respectively) depends on the vertical stability and the impinging wind velocity, two parameters that are inherently linked to the PV streamer and its substructure.

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Michael Sprenger, Sebastian Schemm, Roger Oechslin, and Johannes Jenkner

Abstract

The south foehn is a characteristic downslope windstorm in the valleys of the northern Alps in Europe that demands reliable forecasts because of its substantial economic and societal impacts. Traditionally, a foehn is predicted based on pressure differences and tendencies across the Alpine ridge. Here, a new objective method for foehn prediction is proposed based on a machine learning algorithm (called AdaBoost, short for adaptive boosting). Three years (2000–02) of hourly simulations of the Consortium for Small-Scale Modeling’s (COSMO) numerical weather prediction (NWP) model and corresponding foehn wind observations are used to train the algorithm to distinguish between foehn and nonfoehn events. The predictors (133 in total) are subjectively extracted from the 7-km COSMO reanalysis dataset based on the main characteristics of foehn flows. The performance of the algorithm is then assessed with a validation dataset based on a contingency table that concisely summarizes the cooccurrence of observed and predicted (non)foehn events. The main performance measures are probability of detection (88.2%), probability of false detection (2.9%), missing rate (11.8%), correct alarm ratio (66.2%), false alarm ratio (33.8%), and missed alarm ratio (0.8%). To gain insight into the prediction model, the relevance of the single predictors is determined, resulting in a predominance of pressure differences across the Alpine ridge (i.e., similar to the traditional methods) and wind speeds at the foehn stations. The predominance of pressure-related predictors is further established in a sensitivity experiment where ~2500 predictors are objectively incorporated into the prediction model using the AdaBoost algorithm. The performance is very similar to the run with the subjectively determined predictors. Finally, some practical aspects of the new foehn index are discussed (e.g., the predictability of foehn events during the four seasons). The correct alarm rate is highest in winter (86.5%), followed by spring (79.6%), and then autumn (69.2%). The lowest rates are found in summer (51.2%).

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Sebastian Limbach, Michael Sprenger, Elmar Schömer, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

Complementary key elements of meteorological education are the provision of a thorough theoretical understanding of the physical laws governing atmospheric motions, and the hands-on investigation and visualization of specific weather systems. However, the latter task is technically challenging, because specific skills must be acquired for flexibly handling meteorological data. Some examples are superimposing satellite pictures and reanalysis fields, producing an isentropic potential vorticity (PV) map, and visualizing a vertical section across a flow feature of interest. Although learning these technical issues has its own merits, it can distract students from investigating the complexities of meteorology. This experience from teaching beginner classes in synoptic meteorology at ETH Zurich and the University of Mainz was the main motivation for developing the educational software tool IWAL, the Interactive Weather Analysis Laboratory. IWAL is designed as a web application for easy, fast, and interactive access to large meteorological datasets, which enables active and curiosity-driven learning. The main target users of IWAL are students with little or no experience in the handling and visualization of such data. The interactivity; the option to very easily reproduce complex visualizations; and advanced features, such as the interactive computation of trajectories, are also of interest to more experienced students and lecturers.

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Sarah F. Kew, Michael Sprenger, and Huw C. Davies

Abstract

Inspection of the potential vorticity (PV) distribution on isentropic surfaces in the lowermost stratosphere reveals the ubiquitous presence of numerous subsynoptic positive PV anomalies. To examine the space–time characteristics of these anomalies, a combined “identification and tracking” tool is developed that can catalog each individual anomaly’s effective amplitude, location, overall spatial structure, and movement from genesis to lysis. A 10-yr winter climatology of such anomalies in the Northern Hemisphere is derived for the period 1991–2001 based upon the 40-yr European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) Re-Analysis (ERA-40). The climatology indicates that the anomalies are frequently evident above high topography and in a quasi-annular band at about 70°N, are long lived (days to weeks), and that their effective amplitude is typically 2 PV units (PVU) higher than that of the ambient environment. In addition, the derived climatologies and associated composites pose questions regarding the origin of the anomalies, detail their life cycle, and shed light on their dynamics and role as long-lived precursors of surface cyclogenesis.

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Andreas Stohl, Heini Wernli, Paul James, Michel Bourqui, Caroline Forster, Mark A. Liniger, Petra Seibert, and Michael Sprenger

Stratosphere–troposphere exchange (STE) is important for the chemical composition of both the stratosphere and troposphere. Modifications of STE in a changing climate may affect stratospheric ozone depletion and the oxidizing capacity of the troposphere significantly. However, STE is still poorly understood and inadequately quantified, due to the involvement of physical and dynamical processes on local to global scales and to conceptual problems. In this study, a presentday global climatology of STE is developed that is based, from a data standpoint, on 15 yr of global meteorological reanalyses, and, from a conceptual standpoint, on a Lagrangian perspective that considers the pathways of exchange air parcels and their residence times in the troposphere and lowermost stratosphere. To this end, two complementary Lagrangian models are used. Particular consideration is given to “deep” exchange events that, through fast ascent of tropospheric or fast descent of stratospheric air masses, bring into contact air from the (potentially polluted) boundary layer and lower stratosphere. It is shown that they have different characteristics (strongly preferred geographical locations and a pronounced seasonal cycle) from that of the full set of exchange events. This result is important for accurately characterizing the effects of STE. In particular, it can be inferred that the well-documented springtime maximum of surface ozone cannot be explained primarily by STE.

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Michael Sprenger, Georgios Fragkoulidis, Hanin Binder, Mischa Croci-Maspoli, Pascal Graf, Christian M. Grams, Peter Knippertz, Erica Madonna, Sebastian Schemm, Bojan Škerlak, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

This paper introduces a newly compiled set of feature-based climatologies identified from ERA-Interim (1979–2014). Two categories of flow features are considered: (i) Eulerian climatologies of jet streams, tropopause folds, surface fronts, cyclones and anticyclones, blocks, and potential vorticity streamers and cutoffs and (ii) Lagrangian climatologies, based on a large ensemble of air parcel trajectories, of stratosphere–troposphere exchange, warm conveyor belts, and tropical moisture exports. Monthly means of these feature climatologies are openly available at the ETH Zürich web page (http://eraiclim.ethz.ch) and are annually updated. Datasets at higher resolution can be obtained from the authors on request. These feature climatologies allow studying the frequency, variability, and trend of atmospheric phenomena and their interrelationships across temporal scales. To illustrate the potential of this dataset, boreal winter climatologies of selected features are presented and, as a first application, the very unusual Northern Hemispheric winter of 2009/10 is identified as the season when most of the considered features show maximum deviations from climatology. The second application considers dry winters in the western United States and reveals fairly localized anomalies in the eastern North Pacific of enhanced blocking and surface anticyclones and reduced cyclones.

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Christoph Schär, Oliver Fuhrer, Andrea Arteaga, Nikolina Ban, Christophe Charpilloz, Salvatore Di Girolamo, Laureline Hentgen, Torsten Hoefler, Xavier Lapillonne, David Leutwyler, Katherine Osterried, Davide Panosetti, Stefan Rüdisühli, Linda Schlemmer, Thomas C. Schulthess, Michael Sprenger, Stefano Ubbiali, and Heini Wernli

Abstract

Currently major efforts are underway toward refining the horizontal resolution (or grid spacing) of climate models to about 1 km, using both global and regional climate models (GCMs and RCMs). Several groups have succeeded in conducting kilometer-scale multiweek GCM simulations and decadelong continental-scale RCM simulations. There is the well-founded hope that this increase in resolution represents a quantum jump in climate modeling, as it enables replacing the parameterization of moist convection by an explicit treatment. It is expected that this will improve the simulation of the water cycle and extreme events and reduce uncertainties in climate change projections. While kilometer-scale resolution is commonly employed in limited-area numerical weather prediction, enabling it on global scales for extended climate simulations requires a concerted effort. In this paper, we exploit an RCM that runs entirely on graphics processing units (GPUs) and show examples that highlight the prospects of this approach. A particular challenge addressed in this paper relates to the growth in output volumes. It is argued that the data avalanche of high-resolution simulations will make it impractical or impossible to store the data. Rather, repeating the simulation and conducting online analysis will become more efficient. A prototype of this methodology is presented. It makes use of a bit-reproducible model version that ensures reproducible simulations across hardware architectures, in conjunction with a data virtualization layer as a common interface for output analyses. An assessment of the potential of these novel approaches will be provided.

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