Satellite-derived attributes of cloud vortex systems and their application to climate studies

Andrew M. Carleton

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14 Scopus citations


Defense Meteorological Satellite Program (DMSP) visible and infrared mosaics are analyzed in conjunction with synoptic meteorological observations of sea level pressure (SLP) and upper-air height to derive composite patterns of cyclonic cloud vortices for the Northern Hemisphere. The patterns reveal variations in the structure and implied dynamics of cyclonic systems at different stages of development that include 1) increasing vertical symmetry of the lower-level and upper-air circulations and 2) decreasing lower-tropospheric thicknesses and temperature advection, associated with increasing age of the vortex. Cloud vortices are more intense in winter than in summer and typically reach maximum intensity in the short-lived prespiral signature stage. There are major structural differences among frontal wave, polar air, and "instant occlusion" cyclogenesis types. Cyclones in the dissipation stage may reintensify (deepen), as denoted by the appearance in the imagery of an asymmetric cloud band or a tightened spiral vortex. The satellite-derived statistics on cloud vortex intensity, which are seasonal- and latitude- as well as type-dependent, are applied to a preliminary examination of the synoptic manifestations of seasonal climate variability. An apparently close relationship is found, for two winter and spring seasons, between Northern Hemisphere cyclonic activity and variations in cryosphere variables, particularly the extent of Arctic sea ice. The results may indicate that increased snow and ice extent accompany a southward displacement of cyclonic activity and/or a predominance of deeper systems. However, there is also a strong regional dependence to the ice-synoptics feedback. This study demonstrates the utility of high resolution meteorological satellite imagery for studies of climate variations (climate dynamics).

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)271-296
Number of pages26
JournalRemote Sensing of Environment
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 1987

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Soil Science
  • Geology
  • Computers in Earth Sciences


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