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Internal Variability of the Winter Stratosphere. Part I: Time-Independent Forcing

Scott, R. K.; Polvani, Lorenzo M.

This paper examines the nature and robustness of internal stratospheric variability, namely the variability resulting from the internal dynamics of the stratosphere itself, as opposed to that forced by external sources such as the natural variability of the free troposphere. Internal stratospheric variability arises from the competing actions of radiative forcing, which under perpetual winter conditions strengthens the polar vortex, and planetary wave breaking, which weakens it. The results from a stratosphere-only model demonstrate that strong internal stratospheric variability, consisting of repeated sudden warming-type events, exists over a wide range of realistic radiative and wave forcing conditions, and is largely independent of other physical and numerical parameters. In particular, the coherent form of the variability persists as the number of degrees of freedom is increased, and is therefore not an artifact of severe model truncation. Various diagnostics, including three-dimensional representations of the potential vorticity, illustrate that the variability is determined by the vertical structure of the vortex and the extent to which upward wave propagation is favored or inhibited. In this paper, the variability arising from purely internal stratosphere dynamics is isolated by specifying thermal and wave forcings that are completely time independent. In a second paper, the authors investigate the relative importance of internal and external variability by considering time-dependent wave forcing as a simple representation of tropospheric variability.


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Journal of the Atmospheric Sciences

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