Sensitivity of the latitude of the surface westerlies to surface friction

Gang Chen, Isaac M. Held, Walter A. Robinson

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96 Scopus citations


The sensitivity to surface friction of the latitude of the surface westerlies and the associated eddy-driven midlatitude jet is studied in an idealized dry GCM. The westerlies move poleward as the friction is reduced in strength. An increase in the eastward phase speed of midlatitude eddies is implicated as playing a central role in this shift. This shift in latitude is mainly determined by changes in the friction on the zonal mean flow rather than the friction on the eddies. If the friction on the zonal mean is reduced instantaneously, the response reveals two distinctive adjustment time scales. In the fast adjustment over the first 10-20 days, there is an increase in the barotropic component of zonal winds and a substantial decrease in the eddy kinetic energy; the shift in the surface westerlies and jet latitude occurs in a slower adjustment. The space-time eddy momentum flux spectra suggest that the key to the shift is a poleward movement in the subtropical critical latitude associated with the faster eastward phase speeds in the dominant midlatitude eddies. The view is supported by simulating the upper-tropospheric dynamics in a stochastically stirred nonlinear shallow water model.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2899-2915
Number of pages17
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number8
StatePublished - Aug 2007
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


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