Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2013

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Aerospace Engineering Sciences

First Advisor

Jeffrey P. Thayer

Second Advisor

Scott E. Palo

Third Advisor

V. Lynn Harvey

Fourth Advisor

Hanli Liu

Fifth Advisor

Baylor Fox-Kemper


The polar winter middle atmosphere is a dynamically active region that is driven primarily by wave activity. Planetary waves intermittently disturbed the region at different levels and the most spectacular type of disturbance is a major Sudden Stratospheric Warming (SSW). However, other types of extreme disturbances occur on a more frequent, intraseasonal basis. One such disturbance is a synoptic-scale "weather event" observed in lidar and rocket soundings, soundings from the TIMED/SABER instrument and UK Meteorological Office (MetO) assimilated data. These disturbances are most easily identified near 42 km where temperatures are elevated over baseline conditions by a remarkable 50 K and an associated cooling is observed near 75 km. As these disturbances have a coupled vertical structure extending into the lower mesosphere, they are termed Upper Stratospheric/Lower Mesospheric (USLM) disturbances. This research begins with description of the phenomenology of USLM events in observations and the assimilated data set MetO, develops a description of the dynamics responsible for their development and places them in the context of the family of polar winter middle atmospheric disturbances.

Climatologies indicates that USLM disturbances are commonly occurring polar wintertime disturbances of the middle atmosphere, have a remarkably repeating thermal structure, are located on the East side of the polar low and are related planetary wave activity. Using the same methodology for identifying USLM events and building climatologies of these events, the Whole Atmosphere Community Climate Model WACCM version 4 is established to spontaneously and internally generate USLM disturbances. Planetary waves are seen to break at a level just above the stratopause and convergence of the EP- ux vector is occurring in this region, decelerating the eastward zonal-mean wind and inducing ageostrophic vertical motion to maintain mass continuity. The descending air increases the horizontal temperature gradient at 2 hPa and is responsible for the stratopause warming. Embedded in this planetary wave breaking process is baroclinic instability, as indicated by the Charney-Stern criteria and an EP- ux analysis decomposed by planetary and synoptic-scale waves.

It is recognized that USLM events are part of a family of disturbances that occur in the polar winter middle atmosphere which have the potential to impact the entire atmospheric column. Relationships between USLM events, minor SSWs and major SSWs are examined and displayed through a Venn diagram which looked for events that were linked to each other (or not) by temporal evolution of the polar vortex within 14 days. Critically, every identified major SSW (in both MetO and WACCM) is preceded by a USLM disturbance, and the baroclinic instability that is embedded in the planetary wave breaking of USLM disturbances mark significant disruption to the middle atmosphere, which may aid in the forecast of major SSWs. This leads to the proposal of new dynamics based definitions of minor and major SSWs.