Time scale and feedback of zonal-mean-flow variability

Seok Woo Son, Sukyoung Lee, Steven B. Feldstein, John E. Ten Hoeve

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23 Scopus citations


The physical processes that determine the time scale of zonal-mean-flow variability are examined with an idealized numerical model that has a zonally symmetric lower boundary. In the part of the parameter space where the time-mean zonal flow is characterized by a single (double) jet, the dominant form of zonal-mean-flow variability is the zonal index (poleward propagation), and the time-mean potential vorticity gradient is found to be strong and sharp (weak and broad). The e-folding time scale of the zonal index is found to be close to 55 days, much longer than the observed 10-day time scale. The e-folding time scale of the poleward propagation is about 40 days. The long e-folding time scales for the zonal index are found to be consistent with an unrealistically strong and persistent eddy-zonal-mean-flow feedback. A calculation of the refractive index indicates that the background flow supports eddies that are trapped within midlatitudes, undergoing relatively little meridional propagation. Additional model runs are performed with an idealized mountain to investigate whether zonal asymmetry can disrupt the eddy feedback. For single-jet states, the time scale is reduced to about 30 days if the mountain height is 4 km or less. The reduction in the time scale occurs because the stationary eddies excited by the mountain alter the background flow in a manner that leads to the replacement of zonal-index events by shorter-time-scale poleward propagation. With a 5-km mountain, the time scale reverts and increases to 105 days. This threshold behavior is again attributed to a sharpening of the background zonal jet, which arises from an extremely strong stationary wave momentum flux convergence. In contrast, for double-jet states, the time scale changes only slightly and the poleward propagation is maintained in all mountain runs.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)935-952
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 2008

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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