Interpretations of observed climatological patterns in stratospheric gravity wave variance


  • M. J. Alexander


Observational analyses of gravity waves in the stratosphere have revealed various climatological patterns in gravity wave activity. Seasonal, geographical, and vertical variations have all been observed. In this work, a linear model of gravity wave propagation is applied to investigate the underlying causes of some of the observed patterns. A collection of monochromatic gravity waves that represent a broad spectrum of wavenumbers and frequencies is input at 6-km altitude in the model. Propagation of the waves through realistic background atmospheric wind and stability fields is treated with linear ray theory and a simple saturation condition to limit amplitudes to stable values. The wave spectrum at the 6-km source height is specified to be constant at all latitudes, longitudes, and times, so the variability that appears at higher altitudes is due entirely to background atmosphere variations. Before the model results are compared to the observations, the spectrum of waves is filtered in a way that mimics the limitations of each of the observation techniques. The filtering is described in terms of vertical wavelength and is referred to as the “observational filter.” In a vertically varying background wind, gravity waves are Doppler-shifted in intrinsic frequency and refracted to different vertical wavelengths as they propagate vertically through the atmosphere. The observational filter and the wave refraction effects can thus couple in interesting ways that have not been explicitly considered in previous work. The model shows that this coupling can give rise to geographical, seasonal, and vertical variations in gravity wave observations without any variations in the spectrum or amplitude of gravity wave sources in the troposphere. Thus careful consideration of both the background wind profile and observational filter can greatly affect the interpretation of the observed climatological patterns in gravity wave activity.