The slowly evolving background state of the atmosphere
To link to this article DOI: 10.1002/qj.2518
The theory of wave–mean flow interaction requires a partition of the atmospheric flow into a notional background state and perturbations to it. Here, a background state, known as the Modified Lagrangian Mean (MLM), is defined as the zonally symmetric state obtained by requiring that every potential vorticity (PV) contour lying within an isentropic layer encloses the same mass and circulation as in the full flow. For adiabatic and frictionless flow, these two integral properties are time-invariant and the MLM state is a steady solution of the primitive equations. The time dependence in the adiabatic flow is put into the perturbations, which can be described by a wave-activity conservation law that is exact even at large amplitude. Furthermore, the effects of non-conservative processes on wave activity can be calculated from the conservation law. A new method to calculate the MLM state is introduced, where the position of the lower boundary is obtained as part of the solution. The results are illustrated using Northern Hemisphere ERA-Interim data. The MLM state evolves slowly, implying that the net non-conservative effects are weak. Although ‘adiabatic eddy fluxes’ cannot affect the MLM state, the effects of Rossby-wave breaking, PV filamentation and subsequent dissipation result in sharpening of the polar vortex edge and meridional shifts in the MLM zonal flow, both at tropopause level and on the winter stratospheric vortex. The rate of downward migration of wave activity during stratospheric sudden warmings is shown to be given by the vertical scale associated with polar vortex tilt divided by the time-scale for wave dissipation estimated from the wave-activity conservation law. Aspects of troposphere–stratosphere interaction are discussed. The new framework is suitable to examine the climate and its interactions with disturbances, such as midlatitude storm tracks, and makes a clean partition between adiabatic and non-conservative processes.