Gravity waves in shear and implications for organized convection

Samuel N. Stechmann, Andrew J. Majda

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


It is known that gravity waves in the troposphere, which are often excited by preexisting convection, can favor or suppress the formation of new convection. Here it is shown that in the presence of wind shear or barotropic wind, the gravity waves can create a more favorable environment on one side of preexisting convection than the other side. Both the nonlinear and linear analytic models developed here show that the greatest difference in favorability between the two sides is created by jet shears, and little or no difference in favorability is created by wind profiles with shear at low levels and no shear in the upper troposphere. A nonzero barotropic wind (or, equivalently, a propagating heat source) is shown to also affect the favorability on each side of the preexisting convection. It is shown that these main features are captured by linear theory, and advection by the background wind is the main physical mechanism at work. These processes should play an important role in the organization of wave trains of convective systems (i.e., convectively coupled waves); if one side of preexisting convection is repeatedly more favorable in a particular background wind shear, then this should determine the preferred propagation direction of convectively coupled waves in this wind shear. In addition, these processes are also relevant to individual convective systems: it is shown that a barotropic wind can lead to near-resonant forcing that amplifies the strength of upstream gravity waves, which are known to trigger new convective cells within a single convective system. The barotropic wind is also important in confining the upstreamwaves to the vicinity of the source, which can help ensure that any new convective cells triggered by the upstream waves are able to merge with the convective system. All of these effects are captured in a two-dimensional model that is further simplified by including only the first two vertical baroclinic modes. Numerical results are shown with a nonlinear model, and linear theory results are in good agreement with the nonlinear model for most cases.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)2579-2599
Number of pages21
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number9
StatePublished - Sep 2009

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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