Making Waves—The VIIRS Day/Night Band Reveals Upper Atmospheric Gravity Wave via Sensitivity to Nightglow Emissions
Wednesday, 16 December 2015: 17:00
2018 (Moscone West)
Atmospheric gravity waves, which are disturbances to the atmospheric density structure with restoring forces of gravity and buoyancy, represent the principal form of energy exchange between the lower and upper atmosphere. Wave breaking drives the mean upper-atmospheric circulation, driving coupled processes that in turn influence weather and climate patterns throughout the atmosphere on various spatial and temporal scales. Very little is known about upper-level gravity wave characteristics, mainly for lack of global, high-resolution observations from satellite observing systems. Consequently, representations of wave-related processes in global models at present are crude, highly parameterized, and poorly constrained. Shortly after launch of the NOAA/NASA Suomi National Polar-orbiting Partnership environmental satellite instrument, it was discovered that its Visible/Infrared Imaging Radiomter Suite (VIIRS) Day/Night Band (DNB) was able to observe clouds on moonless nights using the reflection of downwelling nightglow—light emitted from a geometrically thin and tenuous emission layer residing near the mesopause (~85-95 km AMSL). Following this revelation, it was discovered that the DNB also held the further ability to resolve gravity structures within the nightglow direct emissions. On moonless nights, the DNB provides all-weather viewing of these waves at unprecedented 0.74 km horizontal resolution as they modulate the temperature and density structure (and hence brightness) of the nightglow layer. The waves are launched by a variety of physical mechanisms, ranging from terrain, to convective storms, to jet streams and strong wind shear, and even seismic and volcanic events. We cross-reference DNB imagery with thermal infrared imagery to discern nightglow wave structures and attribute their sources. The capability stands to advance our basic understanding of a critical yet poorly constrained driver of the general atmospheric circulation.