A novel approach to diagnosing Southern Hemisphere planetary wave activity and its influence on regional climate variability


Southern Hemisphere mid-to-upper tropospheric planetary wave activity is characterized by the superposition of two zonally-oriented, quasi-stationary waveforms: zonal wavenumber one (ZW1) and zonal wavenumber three (ZW3). Previous studies have tended to consider these waveforms in isolation and with the exception of those studies relating to sea ice, little is known about their impact on regional climate variability. We take a novel approach to quantifying the combined influence of ZW1 and ZW3, using the strength of the hemispheric meridional flow as a proxy for zonal wave activity. Our methodology adapts the wave envelope construct routinely used in the identification of synoptic-scale Rossby wave packets and improves on existing approaches by allowing for variations in both wave phase and amplitude. While ZW1 and ZW3 are both prominent features of the climatological circulation, the defining feature of highly meridional hemispheric states is an enhancement of the ZW3 component. Composites of the mean surface conditions during these highly meridional, ZW3-like anomalous states (i.e. months of strong planetary wave activity) reveal large sea ice anomalies over the Amundsen and Bellingshausen Seas during autumn and along much of the East Antarctic coastline throughout the year. Large precipitation anomalies in regions of significant topography (e.g. New Zealand, Patagonia, coastal Antarctica) and anomalously warm temperatures over much of the Antarctic continent were also associated with strong planetary wave activity. The latter has potentially important implications for the interpretation of recent warming over West Antarctica and the Antarctic Peninsula.



The relationship between mid-to-upper tropospheric planetary wave activity and regional climate variability in the Northern Hemisphere (NH) has received a great deal of attention in recent times, as researchers try to better understand the links between the Arctic Amplification and mid-latitude weather (e.g. Cohen et al., 2014; Screen et al., 2014). While the meridional temperature gradient has not undergone such dramatic changes in the Southern Hemisphere (SH), this flurry of research activity has highlighted the deficits in our understanding of SH planetary wave activity and its link to surface conditions.

In both hemispheres, large-scale topography and continent-ocean heating contrasts provide strong forcing for longitudinally asymmetric planetary scale time-mean motions. Such motions, usually referred to as stationary or planetary waves, are especially strong during winter and tend to have an equivalent barotropic structure, meaning the wave amplitude increases with height but phase lines tend to be vertical (Holton et al., 2013). In the context of weather and climate variability at the surface, these waves are important because they produce local regions of enhanced and diminished time-mean westerly winds, which strongly influence the development and propagation of transient weather disturbances. Persistent (or b