Articles | Volume 17, issue 6
Research article
27 Mar 2017
Research article |  | 27 Mar 2017

Wave modulation of the extratropical tropopause inversion layer

Robin Pilch Kedzierski, Katja Matthes, and Karl Bumke

Abstract. This study aims to quantify how much of the observed strength and variability in the zonal-mean extratropical tropopause inversion layer (TIL) comes from the modulation of the temperature field and its gradients around the tropopause by planetary- and synoptic-scale waves. By analyzing high-resolution observations, it also puts other TIL enhancing mechanisms into context.

Using gridded Global Positioning System radio occultation (GPS-RO) temperature profiles from the COSMIC mission (2007–2013), we are able to extract the extratropical wave signal by a simplified wavenumber–frequency domain filtering method and quantify the resulting TIL enhancement. By subtracting the extratropical wave signal, we show how much of the TIL is associated with other processes, at mid- and high latitudes, for both hemispheres and all seasons.

The transient and reversible modulation by planetary- and synoptic-scale waves is almost entirely responsible for the TIL in midlatitudes. This means that wave-mean flow interactions, inertia–gravity waves and the residual circulation are of minor importance for the strength and variability in the midlatitude TIL.

At polar regions, the extratropical wave modulation is dominant for the TIL strength as well, but there is also a clear fingerprint from sudden stratospheric warmings (SSWs) and final warmings in both hemispheres. Therefore, polar vortex breakups are partially responsible for the observed polar TIL strength in winter (if SSWs occur) and spring. Also, part of the polar summer TIL strength cannot be explained by extratropical wave modulation.

We suggest that our wave modulation mechanism integrates several TIL enhancing mechanisms proposed in previous literature while robustly disclosing the overall outcome of the different processes involved. By analyzing observations only, our study identifies which mechanisms dominate the extratropical TIL strength and their relative contribution. It remains to be determined, however, which roles the different planetary- and synoptic-scale wave types play within the total extratropical wave modulation of the TIL, as well as what causes the observed amplification of extratropical waves near the tropopause.

Final-revised paper