Climate Dynamics

, Volume 52, Issue 5–6, pp 2703–2719 | Cite as

Sensitivity of idealised baroclinic waves to mean atmospheric temperature and meridional temperature gradient changes

  • Mika RantanenEmail author
  • Jouni Räisänen
  • Victoria A. Sinclair
  • Heikki Järvinen


The sensitivity of idealised baroclinic waves to different atmospheric temperature changes is studied. The temperature changes are based on those which are expected to occur in the Northern Hemisphere with climate change: (1) uniform temperature increase, (2) decrease of the lower level meridional temperature gradient, and (3) increase of the upper level temperature gradient. Three sets of experiments are performed, first without atmospheric moisture, thus seeking to identify the underlying adiabatic mechanisms which drive the response of extra-tropical storms to changes in the environmental temperature. Then, similar experiments are performed in a more realistic, moist environment, using fixed initial relative humidity distribution. Warming the atmosphere uniformly tends to decrease the kinetic energy of the cyclone, which is linked both to a weaker capability of the storm to exploit the available potential energy of the zonal mean flow, and less efficient production of eddy kinetic energy in the wave. Unsurprisingly, the decrease of the lower level temperature gradient weakens the resulting cyclone regardless of the presence of moisture. The increase of the temperature gradient in the upper troposphere has a more complicated influence on the storm dynamics: in the dry atmosphere the maximum eddy kinetic energy decreases, whereas in the moist case it increases. Our analysis suggests that the slightly unexpected decrease of eddy kinetic energy in the dry case with an increased upper tropospheric temperature gradient originates from the weakening of the meridional heat flux by the eddy. However, in the more realistic moist case, the diabatic heating enhances the interaction between upper- and low-level potential vorticity anomalies and hence helps the surface cyclone to exploit the increased upper level baroclinicity.


WRF model Idealised simulation Extratropical cyclone Energy conversion 



MR acknowledges the Doctoral Programme in Atmospheric Sciences (ATM-DP, University of Helsinki) for financial support. This work was partially funded by the Academy of Finland Center of Excellence programme (project no. 307331). The authors wish to acknowledge CSC—IT Center for Science, Finland, for computational resources. The authors thank also Daniel Kirshbaum and three other anonymous reviewers for their insightful and constructive comments.

Supplementary material

382_2018_4283_MOESM1_ESM.pdf (645 kb)
Supplementary material 1 (PDF 646 KB)


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Copyright information

© Springer-Verlag GmbH Germany, part of Springer Nature 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Institute for Atmospheric and Earth System Research/PhysicsUniversity of HelsinkiHelsinkiFinland

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