A global survey of static stability in the stratosphere and upper troposphere

Kevin M. Grise, David W. J. Thompson, Thomas Birner

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Static stability is a fundamental dynamical quantity that measures the vertical temperature stratification of the atmosphere. However, the magnitude and structure of finescale features in this field are difficult to discern in temperature data with low vertical resolution. In this study, the authors apply more than six years of high vertical resolution global positioning system radio occultation temperature profiles to document the long-term mean structure and variability of the global static stability field in the stratosphere and upper troposphere.

The most pronounced feature in the long-term mean static stability field is the well-known transition from low values in the troposphere to high values in the stratosphere. Superposed on this general structure are a series of finer-scale features: a minimum in static stability in the tropical upper troposphere, a broad band of high static stability in the tropical stratosphere, increases in static stability within the core of the stratospheric polar vortices, and a shallow but pronounced maximum in static stability just above the tropopause at all latitudes [i.e., the “tropopause inversion layer” (TIL)].

The results shown here provide the first global survey of static stability using high vertical resolution data and also uncover two novel aspects of the static stability field. In the tropical lower stratosphere, the results reveal a unique vertically and horizontally varying static stability structure, with maxima located at ∼17 and ∼19 km. The upper feature peaks during the NH cold season and has its largest magnitude between 10° and 15° latitude in both hemispheres; the lower feature exhibits a weaker seasonal cycle and is centered at the equator. The results also demonstrate that the strength of the TIL is closely tied to stratospheric dynamic variability. The magnitude of the TIL is enhanced following sudden stratospheric warmings in the polar regions and the easterly phase of the quasi-biennial oscillation in the tropics.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)2275–2292
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of Climate
Issue number9
Publication statusPublished - 1 May 2010


  • Temperature
  • Stratosphere
  • Upper troposphere
  • Global positioning systems (GPS)

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