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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Opposing Effects of Reflective and Nonreflective Planetary Wave Breaking on the NAO

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Planetary wave breaking (PWB) over the subtropical North Atlantic is observed over 45 winters (December 1958–March 2003) using NCEP–NCAR reanalysis data. PWB is manifested in the rapid, large-scale and irreversible overturning of potential vorticity (PV) contours on isentropic surfaces in the subtropical upper troposphere. As breaking occurs over the subtropical North Atlantic, an upper-tropospheric PV tripole anomaly forms with nodes over the subtropical, midlatitude, and subpolar North Atlantic. The northern two nodes of this tripole are quite similar to the spatial structure of the North Atlantic Oscillation (NAO), with positive polarity.

Nonlinear reflection is identified in approximately a quarter of all PWB events. Following breaking, two distinct circulation regimes arise, one in response to reflective events and the other in response to nonreflective events. For reflective events, anomalies over the North Atlantic rapidly propagate away from the breaking region along a poleward arching wave train over the Eurasian continent. The quasi-stationary wave activity flux indicates that wave activity is exported out of the Atlantic basin. At the same time, the regional poleward eddy momentum flux goes through a sign reversal, as does the polarity of the NAO. For nonreflective events, the dipole anomaly over the North Atlantic amplifies. Diagnostics for nonreflective events suggest that wave activity over the Azores gets absorbed, allowing continued enhancement of both the regional poleward eddy momentum flux and the positive NAO.

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