The Continuous Mutual Evolution of Equatorial Waves and the Quasi-Biennial Oscillation of Zonal Flow in the Equatorial Stratosphere

Friday, 19 December 2014
Cory Barton, Ming Cai, Chul-Su Shin and Jeffrey Chagnon, Florida State University, Tallahassee, FL, United States
The continuous mutual evolution of equatorial waves and the background QBO is demonstrated using daily NCEP-DOE reanalysis for the period from January 1, 1979 to December 31, 2010. Using a novel diagnostic technique, the phase speed, vertical tilting, and form stress of equatorial waves in the stratosphere are obtained continuously on daily basis. The results indicate that on top of a weak-amplitude annual cycle signal, all of these wave properties have a pronounced QBO signal with a downward propagation that evolves continuously together with the background QBO. Our analysis also highlights the potential role of wave-induced form stress in driving the QBO regime change.

We find that the dominant waves in the equatorial stratosphere propagate very slowly relative to the ground at all times, implying that their observed intrinsic phase speed evolution follows the background QBO nearly exactly but with opposite sign, as the established theory predicts. By revealing the continuous evolution of the form stress associated with the vertically tilted waves, the new diagnostic method also demonstrates the dominance of eastward-tilted eastward-propagating waves contributing to a deceleration of easterly flow at high altitudes, which causes a downward propagation of the easterly flow signal. Similarly, the dominance of westward-tilted westward-propagating waves acts to reverse westerly flow to easterly flow and causes a downward propagation of westerly flow signal. Our results suggest that in addition to the wave-breaking processes, such continuously alternating downward transfer of westerly and easterly angular momentum by westward-tilted westward-propagating waves and eastward-tilted eastward-propagating waves contributes to the wave-mean flow interaction mechanism for the QBO.