The response of an idealized atmosphere to orographic forcing: Zonal versus meridional propagation

Nicholas J. Lutsko, Isaac M. Held

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A dry atmospheric general circulation model is forced with large-scale, Gaussian orography in an attempt to isolate a regime in which the model responds linearly to orographic forcing and then to study the departures from linearity as the orography is increased in amplitude. In contrast to previous results, which emphasized the meridional propagation of orographically forced stationary waves, using the standard Held-Suarez (H-S) control climate, it is found that the linear regime is characterized by a meridionally trapped, zonally propagating wave. Meridionally trapped waves of this kind have been seen in other contexts, where they have been termed "circumglobal waves." As the height of the orography is increased, the circumglobal wave coexists with a meridionally propagating wave and for large-enough heights the meridionally propagating wave dominates the response. A barotropic model on a sphere reproduces this trapped wave in the linear regime and also reproduces the transition to meridional propagation with increasing amplitude. However, mean-flow modification by the stationary waves is very different in the two models, making it difficult to argue that the transitions have the same causes. When adding asymmetry across the equator to the H-S control climate and placing the orography in the cooler hemisphere, it becomes harder to generate trapped waves in the GCM and the trapping becomes sensitive to the shape of the orography. The barotropic model overestimates the trapping in this case. These results suggest that an improved understanding of the role of circumglobal waves will be needed to understand the stationary wave field and its sensitivity to the changes in the zonal-mean climate.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)3701-3718
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 1 2016
Externally publishedYes

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Atmospheric Science


  • Circulation/ dynamics
  • Large-scale motions
  • Orographic effects
  • Planetary waves
  • Rossby waves
  • Stationary waves
  • Teleconnections


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