A Theory of Enhanced Saturation of the Gravity Wave Spectrum Due to Increases in Atmospheric Stability

  • Thomas E. VanZandt
  • David C. Fritts
Part of the Pageoph Topical Volumes book series (PTV)


In this paper we consider a vertical wavenumber spectrum of vertically propagating gravity waves impinging on a rapid increase in atmospheric stability. If the high-wavenumber range is saturated below the increase, as is usually observed, then the compression of vertical scales as the waves enter a region of higher stability results in that range becoming supersaturated, that is, the spectral amplitude becomes larger than the saturation limit. The supersaturated wave energy must then dissipate in a vertical distance of the order of a wavelength, resulting in an enhanced turbulent energy dissipation rate. If the wave spectrum is azimuthally anisotropic, the dissipation also results in an enhanced vertical divergence of the vertical flux of horizontal momentum and enhanced wave drag in the same region. Estimates of the enhanced dissipation rates and radar reflectivities appear to be consistent with the enhancements observed near the high-latitude summer mesopause. Estimates of the enhanced mean flow acceleration appear to be consistent with the wave drag that is needed near the tropopause and the high-latitude summer mesopause in large-scale models of the atmosphere. Thus, this process may play a significant role in determining the global effects of gravity waves on the large-scale circulation.

Key words

Gravity waves saturation wave breaking energy dissipation momentum flux mean flow acceleration 


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Copyright information

© Springer Basel AG 1989

Authors and Affiliations

  • Thomas E. VanZandt
    • 1
  • David C. Fritts
    • 2
  1. 1.Aeronomy LaboratoryNational Oceanic and Atmospheric AdministrationBoulderUSA
  2. 2.Geophysical Institute and Department of PhysicsUniversity of AlaskaFairbanksUSA

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