Impacts, processes and projections of the quasi-biennial oscillation
Abstract:In the tropical stratosphere, deep layers of eastward and westward winds encircle the globe and descend regularly from the upper stratosphere to the tropical tropopause. With a complete cycle typically lasting almost 2.5 years, this quasi-biennial oscillation (QBO) is arguably the most predictable mode of atmospheric variability that is not linked to the changing seasons. The QBO affects climate phenomena outside the tropical stratosphere, including ozone transport, the North Atlantic Oscillation and the Madden–Julian Oscillation, and its high predictability could enable better forecasts of these phenomena if models can accurately represent the coupling processes. Climate and forecasting models are increasingly able to simulate stratospheric oscillations resembling the QBO, but exhibit common systematic errors such as weak amplitude in the lowermost tropical stratosphere. Uncertainties about the waves that force the oscillation, particularly the momentum fluxes from small-scale gravity waves excited by deep convection, make its simulation challenging. Improved representation of the processes governing the QBO is expected to lead to better forecasts of the oscillation and its impacts, increased understanding of unusual events such as the two QBO disruptions observed since 2016, and more reliable future projections of QBO behaviour under climate change.
Surface-to-space atmospheric waves from Hunga Tonga-Hunga Ha’apai eruption
The January 2022 Hunga Tonga–Hunga Haʻapai eruption was one of the most explosive volcanic events of the modern era1,2, producing a vertical plume which peaked > 50km above the Earth3. The initial explosion and subsequent plume triggered atmospheric waves which propagated around the world multiple times4. A global-scale wave response of this magnitude from a single source has not previously been observed. Here we show the details of this response, using a comprehensive set of satellite and ground-based observations to quantify it from surface to ionosphere. A broad spectrum of waves was triggered by the initial explosion, including Lamb waves5,6 propagating at phase speeds of 318.2±6 ms-1 at surface level and between 308±5 to 319±4 ms-1 in the stratosphere, and gravity waves7 propagating at 238±3 to 269±3 ms-1 in the stratosphere. Gravity waves at sub-ionospheric heights have not previously been observed propagating at this speed or over the whole Earth from a single source8,9. Latent heat release from the plume remained the most significant individual gravity wave source worldwide for >12 hours, producing circular wavefronts visible across the Pacific basin in satellite observations. A single source dominating such a large region is also unique in the observational record. The Hunga Tonga eruption represents a key natural experiment in how the atmosphere responds to a sudden point-source-driven state change, which will be of use for improving weather and climate models.