Accessibility navigation

The slowly evolving background state of the atmosphere

Methven, J. ORCID: and Berrisford, P. (2015) The slowly evolving background state of the atmosphere. Quarterly Journal of the Royal Meteorological Society, 141 (691). pp. 2237-2258. ISSN 1477-870X (Part B)

Text (Open Access) - Published Version
· Available under License Creative Commons Attribution.
· Please see our End User Agreement before downloading.


It is advisable to refer to the publisher's version if you intend to cite from this work. See Guidance on citing.

To link to this item 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.

Item Type:Article
Divisions:Science > School of Mathematical, Physical and Computational Sciences > Department of Meteorology
ID Code:39874
Publisher:Royal Meteorological Society


Downloads per month over past year

University Staff: Request a correction | Centaur Editors: Update this record

Page navigation