“Downward Control” of the Mean Meridional Circulation and Temperature Distribution of the Polar Winter Stratosphere

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  • 1 National Center for Atmospheric Research, Boulder, Colorado
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Abstract

According to the “downward control” principle, the extratropical mean vertical velocity on a given pressure level is approximately proportional to the meridional gradient of the vertically integrated zonal force per unit mass exerted by waves above that level. In this paper, a simple numerical model that includes parameterizations of both planetary and gravity wave breaking is used to explore the influence of gravity wave breaking in the mesosphere on the mean meridional circulation and temperature distribution at lower levels in the polar winter stratosphere. The results of these calculations suggest that gravity wave drag in the mesosphere can affect the state of the polar winter stratosphere down to altitudes below 30 km. The effect is most important when planetary wave driving is relatively weak: that is, during southern winter and in early northern winter. In southern winter, downwelling weakens by a factor of 2 near the stratopause and by 20% at 30 km when gravity wave drag is not included in the calculations. As a consequence, temperatures decrease considerably throughout the polar winter stratosphere (over 20 K above 40 km and as much as 8 K at 30 km, where the effect is enhanced by the long radiative relaxation timescale). The polar winter states obtained when gravity wave drag is omitted in this simple model resemble the results of simulations with some general circulation models and suggest that some of the shortcomings of the latter may be due to a deficit in mesospheric momentum deposition by small-scale gravity waves.

Abstract

According to the “downward control” principle, the extratropical mean vertical velocity on a given pressure level is approximately proportional to the meridional gradient of the vertically integrated zonal force per unit mass exerted by waves above that level. In this paper, a simple numerical model that includes parameterizations of both planetary and gravity wave breaking is used to explore the influence of gravity wave breaking in the mesosphere on the mean meridional circulation and temperature distribution at lower levels in the polar winter stratosphere. The results of these calculations suggest that gravity wave drag in the mesosphere can affect the state of the polar winter stratosphere down to altitudes below 30 km. The effect is most important when planetary wave driving is relatively weak: that is, during southern winter and in early northern winter. In southern winter, downwelling weakens by a factor of 2 near the stratopause and by 20% at 30 km when gravity wave drag is not included in the calculations. As a consequence, temperatures decrease considerably throughout the polar winter stratosphere (over 20 K above 40 km and as much as 8 K at 30 km, where the effect is enhanced by the long radiative relaxation timescale). The polar winter states obtained when gravity wave drag is omitted in this simple model resemble the results of simulations with some general circulation models and suggest that some of the shortcomings of the latter may be due to a deficit in mesospheric momentum deposition by small-scale gravity waves.

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