A mechanism for the poleward propagation of zonal mean flow anomalies

Sukyoung Lee, Seok Woo Son, Kevin Grise, Steven B. Feldstein

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40 Scopus citations


Observational studies have shown that tropospheric zonal mean flow anomalies frequently undergo quasi-periodic poleward propagation. A set of idealized numerical model runs is examined to investigate the physical mechanism behind this poleward propagation. This study finds that the initiation of the poleward propagation is marked by the formation of negative zonal wind anomalies in the Tropics. These negative anomalies arise from meridional overturning/breaking of waves that originate in midlatitudes. This wave breaking homogenizes the potential vorticity (PV) within the region of negative zonal wind anomalies, and also leads to the formation of positive zonal wind anomalies in the subtropics. Subsequent equatorward radiation of midlatitude waves is halted, which results in wave breaking at the poleward end of the homogenized PV region. This in turn generates new positive and negative zonal wind anomalies, which enables a continuation of the poleward propagation. The shielding of the homogenized PV region from equatorward wave propagation allows the model's radiative relaxation to reestablish undisturbed westerlies in the Tropics, while extratropical westerly anomalies arise from eddy vorticity fluxes. The above process indicates that the poleward zonal mean anomaly propagation is caused by an orchestrated combination of linear Rossby wave propagation, nonlinear wave breaking, and radiative relaxation. The importance of the meridional wave propagation and breaking is consistent with the fact that the poleward propagation occurs only in the parameter space of the model where the PV gradient is of moderate strength. Implications for predictability are briefly discussed.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)849-868
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2007

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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