Articles | Volume 17, issue 2
Research article
20 Jan 2017
Research article |  | 20 Jan 2017

Short-period mesospheric gravity waves and their sources at the South Pole

Dhvanit Mehta, Andrew J. Gerrard, Yusuke Ebihara, Allan T. Weatherwax, and Louis J. Lanzerotti

Abstract. The sourcing locations and mechanisms for short-period, upward-propagating gravity waves at high polar latitudes remain largely unknown. Using all-sky imager data from the Amundsen–Scott South Pole Station, we determine the spatial and temporal characteristics of 94 observed small-scale waves in 3 austral winter months in 2003 and 2004. These data, together with background atmospheres from synoptic and/or climatological empirical models, are used to model gravity wave propagation from the polar mesosphere to each wave's source using a ray-tracing model. Our results provide a compelling case that a significant proportion of the observed waves are launched in several discrete layers in the tropopause and/or stratosphere. Analyses of synoptic geopotentials and temperatures indicate that wave formation is a result of baroclinic instability processes in the stratosphere and the interaction of planetary waves with the background wind fields in the tropopause. These results are significant for defining the influences of the polar vortex on the production of these small-scale, upward-propagating gravity waves at the highest polar latitudes.

Short summary
This paper presents an investigation into the sources of atmospheric gravity waves observed at 90 km above Amundsen-Scott South Pole Station, Antarctica. By combining gravity wave characteristics obtained from imager data and a numerical model for 3-D wave propagation through the atmosphere, we find that the development of baroclinic instabilities via displacement of the polar vortex is a significant and unique source of vertically propagating, short-period (< 1 h) gravity waves in the region.
Final-revised paper