Momentum balance and Eliassen-Palm flux on moist isentropic surfaces

Ray Yamada, Olivier Pauluis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Previous formulations for the zonally averaged momentum budget and Eliassen-Palm (EP) flux diagnostics do not adequately account for moist dynamics, since air parcels are not differentiated by their moisture content when averages are taken. The difficulty in formulating the momentum budget in moist coordinates lies in the fact that they are generally not invertible with height. Here, a conditional-averaging approach is used to derive a weak formulation of the momentum budget and EP flux in terms of a general vertical coordinate that is not assumed to be invertible. The generalized equation reduces to the typical mass-weighted zonal-mean momentum equation for invertible vertical coordinates. The weak formulation is applied here to study the momentum budget on moist isentropes. Recent studies have shown that the meridional mass transport in the midlatitudes is twice as strong on moist isentropes as on dry isentropes. It is shown here that this implies a similar increase in the EP flux between the dry and moist frameworks. Physically, the increase in momentum exchange is tied to an enhancement of the form drag associated with the horizontal structure of midlatitude eddies, where the poleward flow of moist air is located in regions of strong eastward pressure gradient.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)1293-1314
Number of pages22
JournalJournal of the Atmospheric Sciences
Issue number3
StatePublished - Mar 1 2016


  • Atmospheric circulation
  • Circulation/ dynamics
  • Eddies
  • Isentropic analysis
  • Mathematical and statistical techniques
  • Meridional overturning circulation
  • Moisture/moisture budget
  • Momentum
  • Physical meteorology and climatology

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Atmospheric Science


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