Columbia Team Shows How Stratospheric Conditions Affect Weather

Prof. Lorenzo Polvani, APAM postdocs, Richard Scott and Andrew Charlton, and APAM graduate student, Matthew Wittman, were featured in the article "Columbia Team Shows How Stratospheric Conditions Affect Weather" by Jennifer Freeman.

Originally published in: The Record and by Columbia News



Columbia researchers in the Department of Applied Physics and Applied Mathematics in the Fu Foundation School of Engineering and Applied Science (SEAS) are looking toward the upper reaches of the sky to forecast the powerful forces of nature.

The scientists have used a climate model to demonstrate how weather systems and storms may be influenced by disturbances in the stratosphere — the upper layer of atmosphere 10 to 30 miles above Earth’s surface. The researchers — Matthew Wittman, Prof. Lorenzo Polvani, Richard Scott and Andrew Charlton — are part of the Integrative Graduate Education and Research Training (IGERT) joint program in applied mathematics and Earth and environmental sciences, a collaboration of SEAS and the Earth Institute.

Findings from the research were recently published in the American Geophysical Union’s journal, Geophysical Research Letters.

“Our research shows that changes to the strength of winds in the stratosphere cause changes to tropospheric weather systems,” said lead author Matthew Wittman.

Understanding how the stratosphere affects the troposphere, the lowermost layer of the atmosphere where weather occurs, will help improve seasonal weather forecasts and predictions about the effect of ozone depletion and global warming on our climate.

The research is part of the team’s ongoing efforts to understand the interaction of the stratosphere and troposphere and improve representation of this interaction in climate models.

“The stratosphere has a longer ‘memory’ than the troposphere, adds co-author Andrew Charlton. “If you want to make forecasts on a time scale longer than several days, it is useful to understand the mechanisms linking places with longer memories, such as the stratosphere and the oceans to the troposphere.”

The map at right shows a snapshot of surface temperature in the Northern Hemisphere, with weather systems moving poleward. In the paper, the authors demonstrate that this process is influenced by the presence of a stratospheric jet.

Each winter, a westerly jet — called the Polar Night Jet— forms in the stratosphere. Winds in this jet circulate around the pole at speeds of up to 100 miles per hour. The strength of the jet changes as part of normal atmospheric variability and possibly also in response to climate change. The authors demonstrate that the presence of stronger westerly jets in the stratosphere causes tropospheric weather systems to track further toward the pole.

Averaging the changes to the paths of weather systems, the team showed, produces a pattern of changes similar in structure to Arctic Oscillation, the dominant pattern of climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere that describes how temperatures across the whole hemisphere vary together.

The institute builds upon excellence in the core disciplines, Earth sciences, biological sciences, engineering sciences, social sciences and health sciences, and stresses cross-disciplinary approaches to complex problems. Through research, training and global partnerships, it mobilizes science and technology to advance sustainable development, while placing special emphasis on the needs of the world’s poor.

 


500 W. 120th St., Mudd 200, MC 4701 New York, NY 10027 / Phone: 212-854-4457 / Fax: 212-854-8257 / Email: apam@columbia.edu

©2012 Columbia University