Articles | Volume 15, issue 14
Research article
16 Jul 2015
Research article |  | 16 Jul 2015

The southern stratospheric gravity wave hot spot: individual waves and their momentum fluxes measured by COSMIC GPS-RO

N. P. Hindley, C. J. Wright, N. D. Smith, and N. J. Mitchell

Abstract. Nearly all general circulation models significantly fail to reproduce the observed behaviour of the southern wintertime polar vortex. It has been suggested that these biases result from an underestimation of gravity wave drag on the atmosphere at latitudes near 60° S, especially around the "hot spot" of intense gravity wave fluxes above the mountainous Southern Andes and Antarctic peninsula. Here, we use Global Positioning System radio occultation (GPS-RO) data from the COSMIC satellite constellation to determine the properties of gravity waves in the hot spot and beyond. We show considerable southward propagation to latitudes near 60° S of waves apparently generated over the southern Andes. We propose that this propagation may account for much of the wave drag missing from the models. Furthermore, there is a long leeward region of increased gravity wave energy that sweeps eastwards from the mountains over the Southern Ocean. Despite its striking nature, the source of this region has historically proved difficult to determine. Our observations suggest that this region includes both waves generated locally and orographic waves advected downwind from the hot spot. We describe and use a new wavelet-based analysis technique for the quantitative identification of individual waves from COSMIC temperature profiles. This analysis reveals different geographical regimes of wave amplitude and short-timescale variability in the wave field over the Southern Ocean. Finally, we use the increased numbers of closely spaced pairs of profiles from the deployment phase of the COSMIC constellation in 2006 to make estimates of gravity wave horizontal wavelengths. We show that, given sufficient observations, GPS-RO can produce physically reasonable estimates of stratospheric gravity wave momentum flux in the hot spot that are consistent with measurements made by other techniques. We discuss our results in the context of previous satellite and modelling studies and explain how they advance our understanding of the nature and origins of waves in the southern stratosphere.

Short summary
In nearly all GCMs, unresolved gravity wave (GW) drag may cause the southern stratospheric winter polar vortex to break down too late. Here, we characterise GWs in this region of the atmosphere using GPS radio occultation. We find GWs may propagate into the region from other latitudes. We develop a new quantitative wave identification method to learn about regional wave populations. We also find intense GW momentum fluxes over the southern Andes and Antarctic Peninsula GW hot spot.
Final-revised paper