Climatology of the Stratospheric Polar Vortex and Planetary Wave Breaking

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  • 1 Department of atmospheric Sciences, University of Washington
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Abstract

We use the distribution of Ertel's potential vorticity (PV) on the 850 K isentropic surface to establish a climatology for the transient evolution of the planetary scale circulation in the Northern Hemisphere winter midstratosphere. We compute PV distribution from gridded NMC daily temperature and height maps for the 10 and 30 mb levels, and show that a very good approximation for 850 K PV can be derived from 10 mb heights and temperatures alone.

We assume that reversals of the latitudinal gradient of PV, localized in longitude and latitude may be regarded as signatures of planetary wave breaking. Wave breaking identified by such signatures tends to occur mainly in the vicinity of the Aleutian anticyclone, with a secondary maximum over Europe. The area of the polar vortex, defined as the area enclosed by PV contours greater than a certain critical value, is strongly influenced by wave breaking. Erosion of the polar vortex due to transport and mixing of PV leads to a preconditioned state, when defined in terms of vortex area, that always occurs prior to major stratospheric warmings.

During winters with little PV transport or mixing, the vortex area evolves rather uniformly in response to radiative forcing. During winters with major sudden warmings, the wave breaking signature as defined here first appears at low values of PV, then rapidly moves toward higher values as the vortex area is reduced and the “surf-zone” structure becomes well defined.

Abstract

We use the distribution of Ertel's potential vorticity (PV) on the 850 K isentropic surface to establish a climatology for the transient evolution of the planetary scale circulation in the Northern Hemisphere winter midstratosphere. We compute PV distribution from gridded NMC daily temperature and height maps for the 10 and 30 mb levels, and show that a very good approximation for 850 K PV can be derived from 10 mb heights and temperatures alone.

We assume that reversals of the latitudinal gradient of PV, localized in longitude and latitude may be regarded as signatures of planetary wave breaking. Wave breaking identified by such signatures tends to occur mainly in the vicinity of the Aleutian anticyclone, with a secondary maximum over Europe. The area of the polar vortex, defined as the area enclosed by PV contours greater than a certain critical value, is strongly influenced by wave breaking. Erosion of the polar vortex due to transport and mixing of PV leads to a preconditioned state, when defined in terms of vortex area, that always occurs prior to major stratospheric warmings.

During winters with little PV transport or mixing, the vortex area evolves rather uniformly in response to radiative forcing. During winters with major sudden warmings, the wave breaking signature as defined here first appears at low values of PV, then rapidly moves toward higher values as the vortex area is reduced and the “surf-zone” structure becomes well defined.

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