Date of Award

Spring 1-1-2011

Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)


Atmospheric & Oceanic Sciences

First Advisor

M. Joan Alexander

Second Advisor

John J. Cassano

Third Advisor

Jimy Dudhia


Gravity waves transport momentum and energy upward from the troposphere and by dissipation affect the large-scale structure of the middle atmosphere. An accurate representation of these waves in climate models is important for climate studies, but is still a challenge for most global and climate models. In the tropics, several studies have shown that mesoscale gravity waves and intermediate scale inertia-gravity waves play an important role in the dynamics of the upper atmosphere. Despite observational evidence for the importance of forcing of the tropical circulation by inertia-gravity waves, their exact properties and forcing of the tropical stratospheric circulation are not fully understood. In this thesis, properties of tropical inertia-gravity waves are investigated using radiosonde data from the 2006 Tropical Warm Pool International Cloud Experiment (TWP-ICE), the European Centre for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts (ECMWF) dataset and high-resolution numerical experiments.

Few studies have characterized inertia-gravity wave properties using radiosonde profiles collected on a campaign basis. We first examine the properties of intermediate-scale inertia-gravity waves observed during the 2006 TWP-ICE campaign in Australia. We show that the total vertical flux of horizontal momentum associated with the waves is of the same order of magnitude as previous observations of Kelvin waves. This constitutes evidence for the importance of the forcing of the tropical circulation by intermediate-scale inertia-gravity waves.

Then, we focus on the representation of inertia-gravity waves in analysis data. The wave event observed during TWP-ICE is also present in the ECMWF data. A comparison between the characteristics of the inertia-gravity wave derived with the ECMWF data to the properties of the wave derived with the radiosonde data shows that the ECMWF data capture similar structure for this wave event but with a larger vertical wavelength. The Weather Research and Forecasting (WRF) modeling system is used to understand the representation of the wave event in the ECMWF data. The model is configured as a tropical channel with a high top at 1 hPa. WRF is used with the same horizontal resolution (~40 km) as the operational ECMWF in 2006 while using a finer vertical grid-spacing than ECMWF. Different experiments are performed to determine the sensitivity of the wave structure to cumulus schemes, initial conditions and vertical resolution. We demonstrate that high vertical resolution would be required for ECMWF to accurately resolve the vertical structure of inertia-gravity waves and their effect on the middle atmosphere circulation.

Lastly we perform WRF simulations in January 2006 and 2007 to assess gravity wave forcing of the tropical stratospheric circulation. In these simulations a large part of the gravity wave spectrum is explicitly simulated. The WRF model is able to reproduce the evolution of the mean tropical stratospheric zonal wind when compared to observational data and the ECMWF reanalysis. It is shown that gravity waves account for 60% up to 80% of the total wave forcing of the tropical stratospheric circulation. We also compute wave forcing associated with intermediate-scale inertia gravity waves. In the WRF simulations this wave type represents ~30% of the total gravity wave forcing. This suggests that intermediate-scale inertia-gravity waves can play an important role in the tropical middle-atmospheric circulation. In addition, the WRF high-resolution simulations are used to provide some guidance for constraining gravity wave parameterizations in coarse-grid climate models.